The Washington state Public Disclosure Commission has earned high marks again – this time an A grade for its disclosure of campaign finance data on so-called Super-PACs, according to a report card on so-called “dark money.” The report was issued today by the National Institute on Money in State Politics and the Center for Public Integrity.
Washington was one of 15 states – including Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin – that got top marks because “the states’ laws were at least as robust as federal independent spending requirements,” the report card says.
That meant “dark money” spending by independent groups using money from unidentified donors was more likely to be disclosed (although donors are not necessarily identified) in state races. Thirty states make it “impossible” for voters to know what is spent, the report card says.
The report comes as Washington’s Legislature is wrapping up its work in a year that saw little or no progress on improving disclosure laws. Among the legislative casualties in the 2013 regular session was a resolution sought by Democratic Sen. Adam Kline in support of a federal constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United that opened the door to dark-money spending.
In a news release, the report’s authoring groups said:
”This assessment demonstrates the poor state ofdisclosure of the money spent by outside groups,” said Edwin Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which produced the report with The Center for Public Integrity. ”The majority of states will elect their governors and other major statewide offices in 2014. But the public will not know how much money will be spent to influence the outcome of most of those races.” The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 added about $1 billion in spending to federal races in the 2012 election cycle and led to unlimited spending by individuals, corporations and unions. But the decision also impacted the states.
”With campaign spending flooding all levels of government in the post-Citizens United era, the Center is pleased to be collaborating with the National Institute on this important project,” said Bill Buzenberg, the Center’s executive director.
The PDC has long been recognized nationally for its disclosure work, but several efforts besides Sen. Kline’s – to tighten up state laws or give the agency more funds to improve its software – didn’t go far in the 2013 legislative session.
For instance, a bill slapping a registration fee on lobbyists spending more than $10,000 a year died once again, thwarting a fund source for upgrades to the PDC software system. Democratic Rep. Jim Moeller of Vancouver sponsors that bill every year, getting it out of committee sometimes. Moeller’s measure would have made it easier to see who lobbyists were wining and dining.
In a sign of the divided Legislature’s lack of zest for continued improvements in disclosure, one of the few elections bills that did pass is Senate Bill 5507 – which takes the, ahem, bold step of requiring the secretary of state to put the internet address of the PDC on voter pamphlets to alert voters to where they can get information about who is spending money in elections.
Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign that measure this afternoon.
Lawmakers also passed SB 5748, which Republican Sen. Pam Roach sponsored to extend campaign contribution limits to large hospital district commissioner elections where the districts serve more than 150,000 people. Three districts in King and Snohomish counties would be affected by the extension of rules now in effect for legislative, port and city council races. Inslee is scheduled to act on the bill on Monday.
On the other hand, Roach blocked Kline’s bill on the constitutional amendment.
And they passed SB 5258, GOP Sen. Don Benton’s minor tinkering with law that exempts yard signs, political buttons and balloons or skywriting from requirements that political committees list their top five contributors in campaign advertising on ballot measures. Inslee signed the bill into law.