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A key victory for Washingtonians’ right to recall

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on July 16, 2011 at 6:21 pm with 10 Comments »
July 18, 2011 9:32 am

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The First Amendment and common sense prevailed Friday when the campaign to recall Dale Washam was freed from an arbitrary and crippling funding limit.

Washam has proven himself unfit for the office of Pierce County assessor-treasurer since he was elected in 2008. He has persecuted subordinates – incurring enormous legal claims against the county – and has used his position to pursue an obsessive vendetta against his predecessor.

His behavior has triggered four independent investigations, all of which found misconduct on his part. Washam must be removed before he causes more harm to the taxpayers and the department he supposedly runs.

But until Friday, the recall campaign led by Robin Farris of Puyallup had been hampered by an $800 state limit on individual donations that applies not only to cash contributions but also to volunteer professional services.

The state Public Disclosure Commission has fined Farris for accepting $20,000 worth of donated legal help from two public-spirited lawyers. The $800 ceiling on donations has also prevented her campaign from deploying enough petition-gatherers to cover the geographic immensity of Pierce County.

Thanks to U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Bryan, the campaign is rid of that shackle. In response to a lawsuit by recall supporters, the judge issued an emergency injunction that knocks the lid off donations to their campaign. (Disclosure: The News Tribune is likely to benefit from the campaign’s advertising.)

Bryan’s logic was simple: A recall is not the same animal as a candidate election. A campaign finance restriction that applies to candidates may amount to a First Amendment violation in the case of a recall. In this case, it clearly does.

Washington law allows unrestricted donations to ballot measures but imposes tight curbs on individual donations to people running for office. The idea is that financial support for legislation-by-initiative amounts to constitutionally protected political speech, while unlimited donations to candidates are an invitation to corruption.

As Bryan pointed out, a recall is neither a ballot measure nor a campaign for office, but it’s close enough to the former to warrant constitutional protection.

The Public Disclosure Commission claimed that larger contributions could corrupt the recall – if, for example, a candidate for office bankrolled the removal of the incumbent.

But in Washington, that is extremely unlikely. Officials can’t be recalled in this state on frivolous or malicious grounds; efforts to remove them are closely reviewed by the courts. In this case, Washam’s appeal went all the way to the Supreme Court and was denied unanimously.

A Pierce County recall also faces a formidable signature requirement: 25 percent of the number of registered voters in the election that put the targeted official in office. That alone makes it highly unlikely that a few wealthy troublemakers could put one over on the public.

Bryan’s injunction is a relief. The movement to unseat Washam is probably the most necessary recall campaign the state has seen in decades. It shouldn’t be hobbled by a rule that curtails Washingtonians’ right to recall under the state constitution and their right to political expression under the U.S. Constitution.

Leave a comment Comments → 10
  1. mattersnot1 says:

    Best you read page 21, lines 15 thru 18 to see who the injunction applies to.
    .
    Judge Bryan was very clear and emphatic that his ruling does not apply to every Tom, Dick and Harry.

  2. HappyToHelp says:

    The First Amendment and common sense prevailed??? I think not. It bothers me to see standard rulings set in place for solid reasons being cast aside. I’m really worried at the set statues that seem very much to be at the mercy of “pick and choose” decisions.

  3. Dear_John says:

    A higher court will over rule this bias decision. Any judge in Pierce County should have had to recuse himself.

  4. What Patrick is trying to say here, is now a few interested parties can purchase a recall movement. At 800.00 a pop, they wouldn’t even need 500 people that believe in what they are doing to support this movement at the max level to cover all their costs. Now, a couple people can fund this whole thing. So, no this is not a rejoicing of a “first amendment”, but is the purchasing of a recall movement by a few interested parties.

  5. A higher court will over rule this bias decision. Any judge in Pierce County should have had to recuse himself.

    It was a federal court judge.

  6. mattersnot1 says:

    re: derekyoung
    .
    This federal judge also lives and owns property in Pierce County, as does the Chief Justice of our State Supreme Court, Barbara Madsen, and Justice Charles Johnson.

  7. This federal judge also lives and owns property in Pierce County, as does the Chief Justice of our State Supreme Court, Barbara Madsen, and Justice Charles Johnson.

    Simply living in Pierce County does not create a conflict of interest of any of these judges. There’s no reason for them to recuse themselves. I could see it if they were Pierce County Superior Court judges, but they aren’t.

  8. olympicmtn says:

    Well data doesnt lie. The data dump shows commercial property undervalued, politician’s properties 50% undervalued with 2 politicians paying no property tax and your phony developers paying zero percent increase under Madsen. Again data doesnt lie. Where is the tribune when it comes to brainiacs figuring this out by a simple data dump!

  9. Well data doesnt lie. The data dump shows commercial property undervalued, politician’s properties 50% undervalued with 2 politicians paying no property tax and your phony developers paying zero percent increase under Madsen. Again data doesnt lie. Where is the tribune when it comes to brainiacs figuring this out by a simple data dump!

    Where is this data? Who are these politicians paying no tax?

  10. olympicmtn says:

    If the Tribune wants it they can pay the fair market value of the program and technical work it took to research the data dump.

    Fat chance they can afford our rates. Maybe they should have gone to school to become scientist and not yellow journalist.

    The data is available, you just have to be smarter than a fifth grader, educator, ALF member or politician.

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