Ken Mann, running for re-election as a county councilman, reported in July on his PDC Form C-4 that his 2013 campaign fund was being seeded with a modest “left over” cash balance of $73.60 from his 2009 campaign fund.
There was a problem with that figure.
Following his election to Council in 2009, Mann’s end-of-cycle PDC Form C-4 dated January 11, 2010, reported unspent campaign funds of $7,787.47.
So $7,713.87 has gone unreported or missing. WE have no idea which. But this needs to get straightened out officially.
Elected folks who plan to stand for election more than once are required to follow the provisions of state law found in RCW 42.17A.430 (6), “Disposal of surplus funds.” They’re supposed to set up a “surplus account” to properly account for unspent funds.This law clearly states that “The surplus funds of a candidate or a candidate’s authorized committee may only be disposed of in any one or more of "... the several ways" spelled out in the statute.
But between January 2010 and May 2013, the PDC didn’t receive or post any reports amended or otherwise from Mann concerning the “left over” funds from the 2009 campaign. Despite having more than three years to do so, it appears that the PDC (and thus Mann’s contributors and the public) has no idea how he spent or otherwise disposed of these campaign funds.
Washington State’s public disclosure laws establish a citizen-complaint driven process. On July 3, a complaint was filed with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission to bring the matter to their attention. On July 10 the PDC acknowledged receipt of the complaint and advised they were undertaking a preliminary review of the matter. Because the Commission sometimes receives complaints deemed frivolous, they advise filers they have not made a determination whether a formal investigation or any enforcement action may be warranted at the preliminary stage. Candidates are given time to get their paperwork caught up, as a practical courtesy.
When weeks passed without a response from Mann, on August 16 PDC Director of Compliance Philip Stutzman wrote to confirm that a formal investigation would be made (PDC Case No. 14-001), and he advised Mann of this to provide yet another opportunity to explain what happened to the money and to file amended PDC reports. The PDC posts the reports that it receives to the public promptly, usually within 24 hours of receipt.
When the discrepancy continued to go uncorrected, on August 27 a package of hard copies of the complaint with supporting documents, PDC letters, and a cover letter were delivered directly to Mr. Ralph Schwartz at the Bellingham Herald offices. According to a first-hand account, Mr. Schwartz opened the package, took a quick look at the contents and remarked, “Almost $8,000 – that’s not chump change!” and Schwartz added that he’d take the matter up with his editor, Debbie Townsend, when she returned from vacation after Labor Day. WE understand that he then added that the paper “would likely not want to do anything that might impact the outcome of an election.”
According to further accounts since, it seems the Herald has made it clear that it has no interest of informing the public or keeping them otherwise abreast of this until the PDC investigation is finished “hopefully by late October.” Apparently the “newspaper” does not want to inform the general public of the publically-available but not easily located facts that have led the state Public Disclosure Commission itself to pursue a formal investigation. As of this writing, the investigation is very “live”, and ongoing.
WE are citizen journalists who fundamentally “do what we do” because the public has little choice but to share news on its own around here, filling in gaps that the “official” press refuses to address.
All we’re saying is (a) Mann ought to get with it and straighten this out well before October, and (b) the Herald shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the PDC's official concerns about a confirmed problem. WE think the press could handle this tactfully, if it wanted to. Straight up reporting shouldn't be considered a matter of taking sides. We need a press that will report news as it happens, to be worthy of our respect and reliance. Mann's campaign would probably benefit from the same kind of trustworthy openness with the PDC right now, too.
Update (10/06/13): We received this press release: Whatcom County Councilman Under PDC Investigation for Campaign Finance Violations