Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Friday, July 25, 2008

BREAKING: Retired Supreme Court justices ready to sue BIAW for violating public disclosure law

Editor's Note: This version replaces an an initial draft of this post which was incomplete and did not correctly cite material from the plaintiffs' press release. That initial draft was mistakenly published. My apologies to readers.

The Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) and its affiliates, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, have been illegally raising and spending money without reporting their activities to the public as required by law, charges a group that includes two prestigious retired state Supreme Court justices. According to a press release sent to NPI this morning, the group is prepared to sue the BIAW and MBA in forty five days if Attorney General Rob McKenna and county prosecutors don't take action.

This morning's announcement is somewhat unusual because normally a party wishing to ensure compliance with the law would file a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission. The intent to sue seems to reflect the serious weight of the plaintiffs' allegations against the Building Industry Association of Washington.

State law requires that the PDC and Attorney General's office be given an opportunity to investigate before a civil suit may commence. Today's notification starts the clock on a forty five day window. The PDC and Attorney General will have until mid-September to decide to follow up.

RCW 42.17.400 states:
(4) Any person who has notified the attorney general and the prosecuting attorney in the county in which the violation occurred in writing that there is reason to believe that some provision of this chapter is being or has been violated may himself bring in the name of the state any of the actions (hereinafter referred to as a citizen's action) authorized under this chapter.

(a) This citizen action may be brought only if:

(i) The attorney general and the prosecuting attorney have failed to commence an action hereunder within forty-five days after such notice;

(ii) Such person has thereafter further notified the attorney general and prosecuting attorney that said person will commence a citizen's action within ten days upon their failure so to do;

(iii) The attorney general and the prosecuting attorney have in fact failed to bring such action within ten days of receipt of said second notice; and

(iv) The citizen's action is filed within two years after the date when the alleged violation occurred.
If the AG and PDC do nothing, the plaintiffs, who are represented by Seattle attorneys Knoll Lowney and Mike Withey, may take legal action on their own. The plaintiffs include retired Justices Robert Utter and Faith Ireland, A-1 Builders (a beneficiary of the BIAW trust) and BIAW trust beneficiaries. As they note in their press release this morning, Washington's public disclosure law stipulates that:
Any organization soliciting money for the purpose of achieving or influencing electoral goals must register as a Political Committee with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), and all of the Political Committee’s financial records must be open to public disclosure.

Former Justice Faith Ireland supports the effort to force transparency in the electoral process. “Washington has good public disclosure laws and when they are enforced, we will have a transparent, accountable political process. Without enforcement, sneak tactics and last minute ambush can unfairly influence the outcome of important races,” Ireland stated.

Former Justice Robert Utter agrees. “I believe the actions of the BIAW violate the letter and spirit of the public disclosure law in this campaign season and in past seasons as well. The law provides for a process to test these concerns. I look forward to a successful determination of the issues.”
The case against the BIAW seems sound:
Some of the evidence documenting that the BIAW and its affiliates misappropriated trust funds to build the massive campaign fund came from BIAW and MBA meeting minutes and internal emails. Information contained in the documents show that the BIAW amassed at least $3.5 million for the explicit use of influencing this year’s election for Governor. Other races, including local races and the race for Supreme Court Justice, were also targeted.

“This may be the most significant violation of campaign finance laws in state history,” stated attorney Knoll Lowney. “As key players in Washington politics, there is no question that the BIAW knows it is violating the law.”

“What makes the situation worse is that their campaign monies come from trust funds that were misappropriated from thousands of small employers across the state,” concludes Lowney.

In a related matter, a class action suit (RE Sources v. BIAW) is pending in Thurston County. That lawsuit, filed by BIAW trust beneficiaries, alleges that BIAW funneled trust money that was earmarked for marketing and promoting worker safety into their political activities. That class action seeks accounting, preservation and restoration of the BIAW trust fund.
According to the press release this morning, there was also a press conference this morning at Two Union Square.

We'll keep you posted on what happens in this case.


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