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PDC complaints filed against local politician, political groups

The Public Disclosure Commission announced via a letter on Oct. 18 that it would formally issue a warning letter to Mayor William Armacost for using public facilities on behalf of a group not affiliated with the City of Sequim.

Meanwhile, in separate investigations, two complaints were filed in late September with the PDC against the Sequim Good Governance League and its political action committee (PAC) for an alleged misreporting of donations, and not disclosing its top donors. The groups’ leaders say they’ve resolved any perceived issues.

A third complaint to the PDC against the Republican Women of Clallam County filed in August was found to not be in violation of state election law.

Karen Hogan and Marsha Maguire filed complaints on July 29 that Armacost used his city email to request the council chambers for the Independent Advisory Association’s forums, where he is listed as an endorsed candidate on the group’s website.

Erick Agina, PDC compliance officer, wrote that staff found Armacost drafted at least two emails as mayor to request the council chambers for the forum on behalf of the group.

Interim city manager Charisse Deschenes replied to Armacost on July 26 that per RCW 42.17A.555, “elected officials cannot use or authorize use of City facilities for political purposes (and that she) sent information to Donnie Hall (an IAA founder) describing the rental process,” Agina’s letter states.

He adds that on July 28, Deschenes wrote another email to Armacost that “staff must follow appropriate procedures and cannot hold rentals without the fee being paid. As you know we cannot treat City Council requests differently from our other facility rental requests if it isn’t for City business. If the IAA wishes to book the room, they must follow the appropriate steps.”

In an Aug. 10 email, Armacost replied to the PDC that “all our Council seats are all (non-partisan), no party affiliation. My intent was to give our (constituents) a chance to get to know (their) choices for City Council.”

He added, “If you check my history with the PDC, the same two women have attempted to discredit myself with false claims with the PDC violation. Unfortunately they are county residents, not voting members of Sequim, and continue to stir up trouble.”

On Oct. 18, Agina wrote that “PDC staff’s review found that Mayor Armacost used his City of Sequim computer, email address, and time, to request that the City of Sequim Council Chambers be reserved for a candidate forum, on behalf of an Independent advisory group not affiliated with the City of Sequim to promote five candidates for vacant city council positions available/up for election at the City of Sequim, in violation of RCW 42.17A.555.”

Despite being in violation, Agina wrote that “Armacost was under the impression that it would give the City of Sequim constituents a chance to get to know their choices for City Council.”

Agina wrote that the PDC will consider the warning letter against Armacost if there are future PDC law or rules violations related to the use of facilities.

Good Governance complaints

Two complaints were filed in late September with the PDC against the Sequim Good Governance League and its political action committee (PAC) for an alleged misreporting of donations, and not disclosing its top donors. The groups’ leaders dispute any wrongdoing and say they’ve made measures to rectify any issues.

Kathy Trainor filed on Sept. 22 that the Sequim Good Governance League’s PAC increased its donation goal to $6,000 despite being listed under the PDC’s mini-reporting where it’s not allowed to raise and spend more than $5,000.

She wrote in the complaint that the “PAC has falsified information on their donation page and misrepresented donors into believing donations beyond $5,000 will go to the PAC when in fact, they will not.”

Dale Jarvis, treasurer of the league’s PAC, and a board member and treasurer for the league’s nonprofit, responded to the first complaint, saying the PAC set a goal to $3,000 for postcards and in September it was increased to $4,800 to purchase local newspaper ads and soon thereafter to $6,000 “with the intention of shifting from mini-reporting to full-reporting.”

He wrote to the PDC that he was unaware of the Aug. 31 deadline for switching reporting guidelines until Sept. 27 due to being a new organization.

A PDC staffer contacted him saying it was too late to change reporting, and that eight donors put them over the $5,000 threshold, he wrote. The group then turned off the donor button and refunded the eight donations, putting their contributions at $4,979.

In a follow-up to her complaint dated Oct. 10, Trainor wrote that the League’s donation page was still up and people were able to donate. She wanted to know if the group could continue to collect donations.

Jarvis wrote a response on Oct. 13, writing to the PDC that she “confused the PAC Donation button, which we took down on September 27th, with the League’s Donation button.”

Donations now go to the league’s bank account, and not the PAC’s bank account, he wrote.

“Let me reiterate: We are NO LONGER accepting donations for the SGGL PAC,” Jarvis wrote. “There has been NO intermingling of funds between the nonprofit and the PAC. We keep very careful records of all incoming and outgoing funds.”

Second complaint

In the second complaint, Donnie Hall reported on Sept. 27 to the PDC that the league’s PAC’s postcard “which claims responsibility for this political advertisement clearly does not identify its top five donors as required by the RCW.”

On Oct. 12, Jarvis wrote to the PDC that the “political committee does NOT need to identify the top five donors for two reasons: 1) the advertising cost was well below the $1,000 reporting threshold; 2) there are no donors that have given more than $1,000 (per RCW 42.17A.260).”

He cites the PDC’s website where the top five contributors of $1,000 or more to the committee must appear on the ad but that the SGGL PAC has received 56 donations for this campaign season with no individual donation more than $499.

Jarvis said the postcard cost $467.53 and no candidates were involved in the postcard project.

In an interview, Jarvis said that from Oct. 23 to Nov. 1, all candidates’ and political committees’ record books will be open for public inspection including donor names.

“The SGGL PAC will be publishing a full accounting of our efforts online on that day,” he said. “It astounds us that some folks think we have something to hide.”

Republican Women complaint

The PDC found that a complaint filed against the Republican Women of Clallam County did not violate election guidelines in two recent election years.

Filed with the PDC on Aug. 10 by Lisa Ann Dekker, the complaint alleged the RWCC failed to register as a committee and report contributions and expenditures during calendar years 2018 and 2020, a violation of RCW 42.17A.205.

“Washington law defines a political committee as any person, group, club, organization, or collection of individuals (except a candidate or individual dealing with his or her own funds) expecting to receive contributions or make expenditures in support of or in opposition to any candidate or ballot proposition,” PDC staff wrote in its summary of the case.

“Based on staff findings, PDC staff has determined that, in this instance, the failure to register as a committee and report contributions and expenditures during calendar years 2018 and 2020, does not amount to a violation warranting further investigation.”

PDC Interpretation 07-02, state officials said, provides guidance in determining whether an entity that participates in elections by making campaign contributions — but whose campaign activities are only one aspect of an organization’s overall work, is required to register and file reports with the PDC as a ‘political committee.’

“Staff is reminding the RWCC to review PDC Interpretation 07-02 and evaluate if ongoing election activity meets the primary purpose test to register as a political committee,” PDC staff wrote.

In the original complaint, Dekker asserted that RWCC never filed a statement of organization with the PDC nor disclosed its contributions or expenditures.

“The public is entitled to know who is contributing to the Republican Women of Clallam County (RWCC) and how those funds are spent,” Dekker wrote. “The officers of the RWCC have hidden years of activity and thousands of dollars of contributions and expenditures. The PDC must act to ensure that the RWCC follow the law by fully disclosing their organizing information, their contributions, and their expenditures to the public.”

Sarah Kincaid, RWCC president and a candidate for Sequim City Council, wrote in response to the complaint on Aug. 30 that RWCC pays dues as a social club but has no other outside funding source. She said the club did not solicit contributions from members in 2020 or 2021 to contribute funds to candidates or political committees.

“We do not allocate or budget for contributions to candidates,” Kincaid wrote. “Any donations to candidates come from reserve funds after any obligations have been met.”

See the complaint, response and PDC finding here: pdc.wa.gov/browse/cases/97535.

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