Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Opponents of ruling requiring public disclosure are blurring the line

A number of opponents of Judge Christopher Wickham's recent ruling against the I-912 campaign are crying foul, saying that Wickham's ruling amounts to a limitation of free speech.

Last Friday, the judge ruled that comments and activities by KVI-AM (570) hosts Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson on behalf of the Initiative 912 campaign are in-kind contributions that must be reported to the Public Disclosure Commission.

Those who support Carlson's and Wilbur's assertions that what they're doing doesn't need to be reported are trying to blur the the line between freedom of the press and campaign activity.

If you listen to Carlson and Wilbur on the air, it's very obvious and very clear that both of them are in campaign mode.

They've used KVI as a campaign tool to organize, raise money, and recruit volunteers - all to support an initiative campaign.

RCW 42.17.020 states:
(c) Contributions other than money or its equivalent are deemed to have a monetary value equivalent to the fair market value of the contribution. Services or property or rights furnished at less than their fair market value for the purpose of assisting any candidate or political committee are deemed a contribution. Such a contribution must be reported as an in-kind contribution at its fair market value and counts towards any applicable contribution limit of the provider.
John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur are furnishing very valuable services - they're assisting a political committee - No New Gas Tax - to qualify an initiative for the Washington State ballot.

If the opposition wanted to get on the air, they'd have to pay for advertising. Initiative 912 proponents get Carlson and Wilbur for free - every day.

So Carlson and Wilbur are providing help at less than the fair market value - because the airtime they devote to helping the campaign is free.

Therefore, they need to report that contribution as required by the law.

Carlson and Wilbur may not be officers on the committee, but they are spending a huge amount of time and resources assisting the campaign through their KVI mouthpieces. They've crossed over the boundary from the "free press" and transitioned over to outright campaign activity.

The Seattle Times editorial board can whine all it likes. Publishing an editorial or an endorsement, or simply voicing your support for a candidate on the air, is very different than directly participating in an initiative campaign.

These "critics" are attempting to blur the line out of existence. Under their rationale, why even bother with a public disclosure law at all, if it can be ignored at will.

Carlson and Wilbur are participants. They are using public airwaves licensed to Fisher Broadcasting to campaign.

And that qualifies as an in-kind contribution. They're obliged to report it under the public disclosure law of Washington State.

As Michael Hood of BlatherWatch recently observed:
If Carlson and Wilbur had left their months of wall-to-wall daily infomercials to only "opinions on the issues," there'd be no problem. It's the organizing, strategizing, and being an on-air logistical clearing house that we always thought goes against campaign disclosure rules. We're glad the law agrees.

(I-912's consultant, Brett Bader says they're considering an appeal--if this is such a slam-dunk breech of First Amendment rights, they'll have no problem prevailing. We have a feeling, however, we won''t be hearing about this again, because this claim is cynical and bogus and made by operatives for whom the First Amendment isn't so much of a right as it is a useful political tool to be used or trod upon as needed).
The public disclosure law doesn't stop Carlson and Wilbur from talking. There's no gag order here. All they're being required to do is report their contributions to the campaign as everyone else is.

As to this scenario from the Times:
Suppose, then, that Dino Rossi ran for governor again, that Wilbur and Carlson strongly supported him, and that the Rossi campaign were required to report it as a $20,000 in-kind contribution by Fisher Broadcasting. In that case, Fisher would have violated the law. And how? By speaking on political topics during an election campaign.
Notice that the Times editorial never defines what "strongly supported" means. If all Carlson and Wilbur were doing was stating their support of a candidate, there'd be no problem, even if they said it every day, and no matter how strongly they said it.

But if they started fundraising for Rossi - or otherwise directly participating in campaign activities as defined by the law - then yes, there would be a problem.

One thing is very clear: the Times' editorial board doesn't put much stock in the public disclosure law. Fortunately, the P-I Editorial Board does. Another reason for keeping Seattle a two-newspaper town.

More Information on Fighting I-912: Washington Defense

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