Washington's elections watchdog altered its interpretation of state law Friday, placing strict limits on how Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee will be able to use $1 million stashed in a federal campaign account.
OLYMPIA — Washington’s elections watchdog altered its interpretation of state law Friday, placing strict limits on how Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee will be able to use $1 million stashed in a federal campaign account.
The commission initially had advised Inslee that he could roll forward some $1 million leftover from previous campaigns without the money being subject to contribution limits.
But Public Disclosure Commission Executive Director Doug Ellis said the staff wrongly considered Inslee’s federal campaign to be similar to a state one.
“We have no jurisdiction over federal campaigns,” Ellis said.
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Inslee political director Joby Shimomura said the congressman’s aides want further clarification, adding in a statement that they are “perplexed and disappointed at this sudden change by the PDC.”
State candidates may create dedicated surplus accounts that can then be rolled into future elections without limitations, according to the PDC. Inslee’s campaign had argued that he had compartmentalized his federal campaign cash and that the dedicated accounts were essentially “surplus” accounts described in state law.
The commission initially agreed with Inslee’s interpretation of the law, saying Inslee could ask past donors to flip their excess donations to his state campaign. He could then ask those same donors for additional funds that would be subject to this year’s campaign contributions.
Under the new interpretation, he will still be able to ask donors to shift the surplus donations, but the money would count toward the maximum amount an individual can donate — $3,200 for the entire election cycle. Federal elections have a contribution maximum of $5,000 per election cycle. Inslee will also have to identify the donors in campaign-finance records, something he wouldn’t have had to do previously.
The extra money could have given Inslee a key advantage in what is shaping up to be one of the most closely watched races for governor in the country. The leading candidates for governor in 2008 raised and spent more than $10 million each.
Republican candidate Rob McKenna’s campaign had argued that the transfers would be illegal. McKenna campaign manager Randy Pepple said they were pleased with the PDC’s new advice.
“It’s fairly clear that he’s been asked to start abiding by the rules of Washington state instead of the rules of Washington, D.C.,” Pepple said.