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Busted: A money scheme to fool the voters

Post by Kim Bradford on Oct. 28, 2010 at 6:54 pm |
October 28, 2010 6:54 pm

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Three cheers for the election watchdogs who traffic in campaign finance reports, spreadsheets and databases, trying to follow the money and make clear the murky dealings of political operatives.

Bloggers, reporters and other guardians of disclosure have scored a major win by unraveling the tangled web Moxie Media wove in a blatant attempt to deceive voters.
That web now has Moxie and its owner, Lisa MacLean, square in the attorney general’s crosshairs.

On Thursday, the Public Disclosure Commission rejected a staff-negotiated deal that would have required MacLean to admit violating state campaign finance laws and pay $30,000 in fines and costs.

Give staffers some credit: They nailed MacLean with several campaign finance violations less than eight weeks after launching an investigation, a welcome change from the usual glacial pace of PDC probes.

But commissioners are right. The proposed penalty was far too weak given the brazen nature of the alleged offenses. The commission is calling on Attorney General Rob McKenna to pursue a civil action against MacLean – and to consider whether her tactics were so egregious as to warrant an election do-over.

MacLean stands accused of orchestrating a complex scheme intended to delay – if not outright avoid – the disclosure of donors to a stealth campaign to unseat a Democratic state senator.

In August, Moxie Media spearheaded a last-minute effort to promote Rod Rieger, a Marysville conservative who wasn’t doing much to promote himself. Two mailers and a round of robocalls later, Rieger bested Democratic incumbent Sen. Jean Berkey in the primary.

Rieger’s benefactors? Cut Taxes PAC and Conservative PAC, two organizations with nice, Republican-sounding names. In reality, the PACs were MacLean-created fronts for the labor interests and trial lawyers who were targeting Berkey for not being liberal enough.

The PDC found that MacLean promised those donors she could ensure that they would not be connected to the pro-Rieger ads – at least not before election day.
Laundering campaign cash through multiple PACs to frustrate disclosure is nothing new, but MacLean has apparently made an art of it.

Business interests – who admittedly have an interest in kneecapping a Democratic operative – have used campaign finance reports to link Moxie to 40 PACs that have funneled as much as $2.7 million to a state Supreme Court contest and 16 legislative races.

In most instances, Moxie’s allegiances are transparent – it supports the most liberal candidate in the race. But its tactics are still designed to confuse. Take the Tom Campbell-J.T. Wilcox race in the 2nd District. Hit pieces attacking Wilcox identify “For the People” and “Second Defense” as contributors.

Dig deep, and you might discover that those PACs aren’t the coalitions of constitutionalists or gun-rights supporters they might seem. They are backed by the likes of FUSE Washington and the Service Employees International Union.

Moxie Media’s campaign to evade disclosure strikes at the very heart of campaign finance laws. Ensuring voters have a clear view of who is doing the spending is the best defense against the corrupting influence of money in politics.

The attorney general should deal harshly with those who would conspire to thwart the public’s right to know and undermine clean elections.

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