Freedom Foundation sues SEIU national PAC

Freedom Foundation sues SEIU national PAC

Freedom Foundation sues SEIU national PAC

On Tuesday, the Freedom Foundation filed a lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court alleging that the SEIU Political Education and Action Fund (SEIU PEAF), an out-of-state political action committee run by the SEIU’s national headquarters, violated the state’s Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA) when it failed to properly disclose over $290,000 in campaign contributions during the 2016 election cycle.

All told, SEIU PEAF has poured over $1.99 million dollars into Washington state since the beginning of 2016.

There’s just one problem – the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) has determined that for a political committee to qualify as “out-of-state” for reporting purposes, the committee’s campaign spending in Washington cannot at any time exceed twenty percent of its total expenditures for nationwide political campaign activity.

The SEIU PEAF blew through the PDC’s twenty percent threshold at the beginning of 2016 and consistently spent more than twenty percent of its money in Washington over the course of the year. Yet despite the state’s clear requirements, the union PAC never registered as an in-state political committee.

As a result, the SEIU PEAF failed to timely disclose over $290,000 in contributions made in October 2016 – a critical time in the campaign season – instead waiting until after the November election to disclose the spending.

Section 250 of the FCPA establishes less stringent reporting requirements for out-of-state political committees, allowing them to disclose less information and at different times. However, because the state’s general expectation is that PACs submit detailed and timely reports to ensure Washingtonians can make informed voting decisions, it is important that only truly out-of-state committees can take advantage of the more limited disclosure provided in Section 250.

In other words, not a nationally-run SEIU PAC that has poured nearly $2 million into the state in just two years.

It’s bad enough that SEIU PEAF never registered as an in-state political committee. Like all other in-state committees, it should have been required under the FCPA to file a statement of organization and then report the people who contributed to it, the amounts it deposited in the bank, and the amounts and purposes for which the committee spent its money.

But it doesn’t end there.

The lawsuit also notes that the SEIU PEAF didn’t even properly comply with the limited disclosure in Section 250 of the FCPA. It never disclosed the source of any contributions, never said what the political committee’s purposes were, and on several occasions filed reports late.

Incredibly, the SEIU PEAF committee has again exceeded the twenty percent threshold in 2018, even after the Freedom Foundation notified the Washington State Attorney General of these violations.

Speaking of which, the AG’s Office declined to pursue any action against its political ally, prompting the Freedom Foundation to file this lawsuit to force SEIU to comply with the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

Just as we expect everyone else to.

Chief Litigation Counsel
Eric Stahlfeld has practiced law in Washington State for 25 years, after graduating from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. He previously worked in the administration of President Ronald Reagan. He lives outside Seattle with his wife Susan. They have two children, Marta and Karl.