OLYMPIA, Wash. – Not since the 1970s has a court overturned a Washington election and ordered a re-vote. But that specter has now been raised in Washington’s 38th legislative district because of an emerging campaign finance scandal. Thursday, Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission sent the case to the Attorney General and raised this question: should the primary election results be thrown out? Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins describes the scheme in question.
It all begins with a plan hatched by a Democratic political consultant named Lisa MacLean. Last August, she sent an email to several Democratic leaning groups –mostly unions –proposing to run a stealth campaign on behalf of a Republican state senate candidate. The goal: to bump up his votes and knock off incumbent Democratic State Senator Jean Berkey in the top-two primary. MacLean’s clients were backing a liberal challenger. Soon, she had $9,000 in pledges from Washington’s state employees union, the state labor council and trial lawyers. And the campaign commenced with this innocuous-sounding robocall.
Robocall: “Hi, this is your neighbor Emma. I’m a lifelong Republican and I vote in every election ...””
Emma was actually Lisa MacLean, according to Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission. The campaign also mailed two political hit pieces attacking Berkey for voting to raise taxes. While certainly unorthodox, so far none of this was illegal. But the PDC says MacLean did break the law when she concealed and failed to report in a timely manner the $9,000 pledge. At a Public Disclosure disciplinary hearing, MacLean’s attorney William Rava made a statement apologizing on behalf of Lisa MacLean and Moxie Media.
William Rava: “We made mistakes and we acknowledge them. We take our compliance efforts seriously and that’s why we cooperated fully in the investigation.”
PDC staff had recommended a $30,000 settlement. But the commission, on a three-zero vote, hotly rejected that proposal. Commissioner Jane Noland of Seattle led the charge.
Jane Noland: “This is not about limits to campaigns or about amounts spent it’s about disclosure and this has made it a joke.”
The Commission referred the case to the Attorney General asking him to take legal action against MacLean and Moxie Media. And that’s not all. Noland encouraged the AG to consider asking a judge to throw out the primary election results. That’s exactly what Senator Berkey – who lost the primary by just 122 votes – was hoping to hear.
Jean Berkey: “We need to make people be held accountable and this is the most, I think, unethical action I have seen in thirty plus years working campaigns.”
MacLean’s attorney is highly skeptical there are grounds for a re-vote. But now that the case is being handed over to the Attorney General his client may face a harsher fine.
Copyright 2010 Northwest News Network