A Tacoma political consultant filed a complaint last week with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission after reading a Seattle Times story about Sound Transit’s disclosure of ORCA cardholders’ email addresses to the Mass Transit Now! campaign.
The state’s campaign watchdog is investigating whether Sound Transit intentionally released nearly 173,000 protected email addresses of transit passholders to the political campaign promoting ST3, the fall ballot measure seeking to expand regional mass transit.
Conner Edwards, a Tacoma political consultant, filed a complaint with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) on Saturday after reading a Seattle Times story about Sound Transit’s disclosure of ORCA cardholders’ email addresses to the Mass Transit Now! campaign.
A day earlier, a spokesman for the regional transit agency acknowledged Sound Transit had improperly disclosed the email addresses, saying it mistakenly released them when responding to the ST3 campaign’s formal disclosure requests for Sound Transit’s public email lists. The campaign used the contact information to send a mass email Aug. 16 to enlist supporters for the ballot measure.
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In his complaint, Edwards noted Sound Transit’s explanation that the release was a mistake is “simply not conceivable” because public agencies routinely respond to records requests and devote staff and attorneys to review them.
“It is far more likely that they intentionally did not apply the exemption so as to benefit the ‘Mass Transit Now’ campaign,” Edwards wrote.
Washington elections law prohibits governments from spending public funds or using other public resources to promote political campaigns.
The PDC review of Edwards’ complaint is the agency’s second active investigation of allegations that Sound Transit broke election law by taking actions that benefit the pro-ST3 campaign, PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson said Thursday.
The agency is also separately reviewing a complaint filed this year by ex-lawmaker-turned-political gadfly Will Knedlik, who, among other issues, has questioned a public-outreach survey distributed by Sound Transit this year that sought feedback gauging why people would be willing to vote for the ballot measure.
Sound Transit later removed two questions from the survey after The Times inquired about its legality in April.
Likewise, Sound Transit notified ORCA cardholders and apologized for releasing their email addresses after The Times raised questions about that matter last week. Sound Transit requested that Mass Transit Now no longer use the ORCA cardholders’ contact information.
Earlier this week, a spokesman for King County Executive Dow Constantine, who chairs the Sound Transit directors’ board, said agency CEO Peter Rogoff has assured Constantine that the disclosure of ORCA email information was a mistake that won’t happen again. Constantine didn’t plan to investigate the matter further, spokesman Alex Fryer added.
Rogoff told the board Thursday the campaign’s records request “was not treated in any manner different” from any other request.
The PDC has no timetable for completing its complaint investigations, Anderson said Thursday.