Given their status as major political players and history of skirting state campaign finance transparency rules, the Freedom Foundation works to keep a close eye on government unions’ political activity in Washington state.
Earlier this year, a major problem came to our attention regarding reports filed with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) by the Washington Education Association’s Political Action Committee (WEA-PAC) disclosing its 2021 contributions and expenditures.
WEA-PAC is funded primarily by regular contributions from the teachers’ union’s members working in the state’s public schools and universities. In almost all cases, these contributions are automatically deducted from employees’ paychecks by school district payroll systems on the taxpayers’ dime, but that is a topic for another time.
As the minimum contribution amount is $2.25 per month, which is what the vast majority of contributing members chip in, a person would contribute $27 over the course of a calendar year.
State campaign finance laws require that any political committee in continuous operation disclose the name and address of every person contributing at least $25 in the aggregate during a calendar year.
WEA-PAC’s 2021 end-of-year filings should have disclosed the names and addresses of its tens of thousands of contributors. Instead, the filings claimed WEA-PAC received under-the-limit contributions from nearly 27,000 unidentified contributors—six times as many as it reported the prior year.
Accordingly, the Freedom Foundation filed a complaint with the PDC in March alleging that WEA-PAC failed to disclose the identities of its contributors as required by law.
WEA-PAC couldn’t deny or excuse its failure to follow the law, admitting in its response to the PDC that the Freedom Foundation’s complaint was “correct.” Instead, it blamed a technical “error” and filed an updated report belatedly disclosing the identity of its 2021 contributors.
The PDC subsequently, and not too surprisingly, closed the complaint without imposing any penalties on WEA-PAC for its significant reporting failure.
To be fair, Washington state’s campaign finance reporting requirements are, in many respects, overly burdensome. In this case, the $25 threshold for itemizing a PAC’s contributors has not been updated for inflation in decades, and few would argue that $25 is likely to improperly influence an elected official.
Nonetheless, until they are changed, the rules are the rules, and government unions have a demonstrated history of treating compliance as optional.
One wonders what they would get away with without the Freedom Foundation looking over their shoulders.