Lost in the din on election day was a sweet little moral victory for the people who tried to recall Dale Washam last year.
One of the many mini-dramas in the recall attempt was the way the Public Disclosure Commission stomped on the signature-gathering campaign before it even got started.
Robin Farris, who led the effort to unseat Pierce County’s flamboyantly incompetent assessor-treasurer, had been getting pro bono legal assistance from two public-spirited Tacoma attorneys, Tom Oldfield and Jeff Helsdon. They helped her negotiate the recall petition through a legal obstacle course that finally ended with its approval by the Washington Supreme Court.
In the process, the PDC decided that Farris had violated the state’s campaign finance laws – which then capped individual contributions to candidates at $800 – by accepting an estimated $20,000 worth of donated help from Oldman and Helsdon. The commission insisted on equating a recall effort to a candidate’s election campaign, and it continued to do so; as a result, Farris’ efforts were hobbled financially for months.
Finally, a libertarian outfit based in Virginia, the Institute for Justice, fought the PDC on behalf of Farris’ campaign and won an injunction that let her raise more money. The PDC challenged the ruling and the case bounced around the federal judiciary.
On Nov. 6, Judge Robert Bryan of the U.S. District Court of Western Washington made the decision final and official: Recalls and elections are different animals, and the PDC’s crackdown on Farris was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.
This comes too late, of course, for the recall. Pierce County has had to endure an extra year of Washam. But the path has been cleared for the next attempt to dislodge a loon from office.