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Thursday, June 8, 2023

Washington State’s Public Disclosure Commission Considers Guidance On Use Of Campaign Funds

The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) is set to hold a special meeting to gather public comment and consider two options for agency guidance regarding the use of campaign funds received for a different office than currently sought. The meeting, which is scheduled for May 11th at 9:30 a.m. and will be held remotely, could have a significant impact on how candidates use campaign money.

Under RCW 42.17A.490, candidates who solicit contributions for a state, local, or judicial office are not allowed to use those contributions to seek a different office without first obtaining written approval from the persons or entities who gave the contributions. The question before the Commission is whether those contributions authorized for transfer by the original contributors are subject to individual contribution limits in the new campaign or can be transferred as surplus from the prior campaign in a lump sum.

The Commission has put forth two options for consideration. Option 1 reflects current agency guidance, which allows candidates to transfer contributions left over from a previously completed election campaign to a new campaign for a different office without attributing the funds to their sources or counting them toward the contributor’s limit for the new campaign. Funds are simply moved as a lump sum of surplus funds to the new account with permission from the donors. There might be a succession of transfers to the new account, depending on when the campaign receives the written permission.

Option 2 is the proposed alternative to current guidance, which requires that candidates attribute funds transferred from a previous campaign to their original sources and count them toward the contributor’s limit for the new campaign. Each contributor whose written approval was obtained must be identified along with their contribution.

This issue has garnered a lot of attention from candidates and political observers. On the one hand, some believe that allowing candidates to transfer funds as surplus from one campaign to another without counting them towards contribution limits in the new campaign could create a loophole that enables candidates to circumvent contribution limits and receive an unfair advantage. On the other hand, supporters of Option 1 argue that the current guidance has been in place for a long time and provides clarity and consistency to candidates, donors, and political observers.

The PDC is encouraging interested parties to submit written comments about the issue and the possible guidance expressed below until noon on May 9th to [email protected] with “Comment on Commission meeting agenda item” in the subject line.

The PDC’s decision will likely have implications for candidates who plan to run for office in Washington state in the future. It is essential to ensure that campaign finance regulations are clear, fair, and effective in promoting transparency and accountability in the electoral process.

More information about joining the meeting will be published on the PDC website on May 8th. Political observers and candidates are encouraged to participate in the meeting to share their perspectives and provide valuable feedback on this important issue.

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