For the sake of informed voters, Washington legislators should give careful consideration to a basket of requests from the Public Disclosure Commission.

Included is a reasonable budget proposal and several policy changes that warrant scrutiny. One, allowing PDC directors to lobby and participate in political campaigns outside of Washington state, should be rejected.

Funding is a perpetual concern for this important agency. It manages and enforces a reporting system that brings transparency to political activity, including campaign spending, contributions and lobbying. Modest funding gives the PDC an excuse to be reactive, responding mostly to complaints, rather than more actively enforcing disclosure laws.

Since 2017, the Legislature boosted PDC funding, increasing its staff from 17 to 30. It also created a new “transparency fund” into which disclosure penalties and settlements are deposited.

In the 2020 session, which begins in January, the PDC is seeking authority to spend these transparency funds, without having to request legislative appropriations. The funds could be used only for projects such as website upgrades and not ongoing operations. That’s a reasonable change that should increase efficiency for the agency and legislative budget writers.

Of greater concern is the PDC’s request to allow commissioners to participate in political activities, outside of Washington, during their terms. It doesn’t matter whether directors lobby or politic — doing so compromises the appearance of fairness at this quasi-judicial body.


The PDC contends it would be easier to recruit commissioners if restrictions were looser. But extra recruiting effort is a small price to pay to maintain standards, especially compared to the serious credibility threat posed by actively politicking commissioners.

Appearance of fairness is a perpetual challenge for the PDC. This was evident in 2016, when directors declined to penalize Sound Transit after it provided political campaign support to the powerful and well-connected transit lobby.

Sound Transit provided ORCA passholders’ email addresses to the political organization campaigning for Sound Transit 3. A PDC staff investigation concluded this appeared to violate the prohibition on public agencies assisting campaigns and should be referred for prosecution. But commissioners declined, shrugging it off as a mistake.

More recently, the PDC complaint process has been weaponized by partisans aggressively filing complaints against campaigns of opposing parties. Public officials also seemed emboldened this year to campaign against Initiative 976, including a campaign mailer funded by the city of Olympia that’s being scrutinized by the PDC.

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In this environment, the last thing the PDC needs is to risk losing credibility by having commissioners take sides in campaigns.

Washingtonians need a well-funded disclosure commission that places the highest priority on transparency and objectivity.