State Sen. Pam Roach had asked the state Attorney General’s Office whether initiative campaigns need to disclose their top five donors on signature-gathering petitions.
OLYMPIA — The Washington state Attorney General’s Office has issued an informal opinion on whether petitions to get initiatives on the ballot are political advertising.
The answer: a firm maybe.
State Sen. Pam Roach, R-Sumner, asked for the advice last month after a staffer at the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) advised that an initiative campaign should disclose its top donors on signature-gathering petitions.
State law since 2012 has required political committees to list their five top contributors on political ads about ballot measures that cost $1,000 or more.
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But does a ballot-measure petition count as political advertising?
“Potentially, yes,” according to the opinion dated Friday. “An initiative or referendum petition could meet the definition of ‘political advertising’ ” under state law “if the petition includes content, not otherwise required by law, that appeals for votes or for financial or other support of the proposed measure.”
Later on, the opinion acknowledged that “a court reviewing the matter could reach the contrary conclusion that initiative or referendum petitions can never constitute ‘advertising.’ ”
In asking for the opinion, Roach called the PDC’s interpretation of law “bizarre” and said the agency should have consulted the Legislature.
Regardless, the PDC “is not going to be looking at petitions — past or present — to determine if political advertising requirements were met in cases where it was required,” agency spokeswoman Lori Anderson wrote in an email.
The members of the commission are likely to discuss the state attorney general’s opinion during their June 23 meeting, Anderson added.