Strom Peterson admits to disclosure violations
The Washington state Attorney General’s Office on Monday, April 10, filed three separate complaints in Thurston County Superior Court, including one against Rep. Strom Peterson, whose 21st Legislative district includes Edmonds.
In February 2017, the AGO received a citizen action notice alleging Peterson and the Friends of Strom Peterson political re-election organization committed violations of the state’s public disclosure laws during his successful 2016 campaign to retain his seat.
An AGO review determined Peterson, a Democrat, broke the law by failing to provide a detailed description of $3,255.97 in expenses (including the vendors used by his campaign consultant).
According to the complaint, filed April 7, Peterson began collecting contributions on Oct. 30, 2015. He reported collecting contributions four times. His candidate registration form should have been filed no later than Nov. 13, 2015.
As a result, Peterson did not file contribution reports that should have been filed no later than Nov. 13 and Dec. 10, 2015. These disclosures did not occur until Jan. 11, 2016. As such, the reports were 32 and 59 days late.
In addition, Peterson failed to disclose over $2,048 in campaign debt and to timely disclose at least $13,522 in expenditures and in-kind contributions. The late disclosures were between six and 31 days late, and primarily related to post-election surplus fund transfers.
“I take this citizen complaint very seriously and will work with the Attorney General's office to answer any questions,” Peterson told The Beacon. “I also take full responsibility for missing a few filing deadlines, but I want it to be clear that all campaign donations and expenditures have been fully accounted for. We are fortunate to have the Public Disclosure Commission, one of the most transparent election systems in the country.”
Public records show the complaint was filed by Glen Morgan, a former member of the conservative, Olympia-based Freedom Foundation who runs the website www.wethegoverned.com.
“He’s a guy who looks for any violation,” said Peterson, a former Edmonds City Council member who lives in Edmonds and owns The Cheesemonger’s Table on Fifth Avenue South.
“It’s kind of an odd thing. We filed something late and then you realize you’ve done it and so go back to amend your filing with the Public Disclosure Committee. So now I’m admitting I was late.
“He uses that information then to go to the Attorney General. So even though you’ve corrected it, he takes that correction as an admission of guilt and goes to the AG office to file a citizen complaint. It’s kind of a screwy system, but he’s been doing this to a handful of legislators, always on the Democratic side. I just want to let people know that all of our contributions and expenditures have always been accounted for.”
Morgan told the Beacon that he became interested in the campaign finance rule reform last year.
“It’s kind of a random,” he said. “It’s really what draws my attention. I’m trying to get more educated about this process.”
Morgan said he doesn’t target Republicans because others are doing it instead.
“I have also filed against committees, cities and some levy campaigns. I don’t think those are partisan. I was told by the Democrat (sic) party that they have a bunch of people who do this stuff and they were going to file complaints on Republicans. So it doesn’t seem to be a good use of my time to do it on Republicans if (Democrats) are going to do it anyway.
“I have some ideas for reform. Hopefully, Peterson can join with me in my reform efforts to make the process better and more understandable during next year's session. If so many people are violating it, is the statute correct or perhaps there’s a more efficient way.”
The AGO also is reviewing deficient campaign finance filings concerning state Rep. Jeff Morris (D-40th District) and former candidate for 42nd Legislative District representative Sharlaine LaClair.
In each case, the state seeks penalties and injunctive relief. The defendants have 20 days from the date they are served to respond to the state’s complaints.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Linda Dalton and Assistant Attorney General Walter Smith are handling the cases.
When the Attorney General’s Office receives a citizen action notice, it has 45 days to investigate and respond to the citizen. If the AGO or local prosecutor does not start litigation, the individual may sue in the name of the state.
If litigation is successful, any penalties awarded would go to the state, and the individual’s attorney could recover attorney fees and costs.
The AGO enforces the state’s campaign finance disclosure law to ensure free, open and fair elections in Washington state.
To read the complaint against Peterson, go to http://bit.ly/2ownbGh.