While I was blazing my tirade against The Seattle Times' support of Dino Rossi last Friday, the Times reported on bundles of deceptive mailers distributed in districts with tight state house and senate races across Washington. On Monday, the Washington State Labor Council and other groups filed a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission, saying the ads contain "misleading, defamatory, and otherwise unlawful information."
The mailers tell "real progressives" not to vote for candidates who are actually running for office, and instead to write-in candidates who aren't running for office but who have high name recognition because they've run in the past. The funders stamp a bunch of logos from unions and left-leaning institutions such as the WSLC and FUSE Washington, all of whom have endorsed the actual Democrats running in each race.
Here are a few examples:
According to the complaint, the mailers have been distributed to "over 100,000 voters across the State of Washington" in the "6th, 19th, and 26th legislative districts, as well as Thurston County." The Democrats in those closely watched races are Jessa Lewis, who's running for State Senator in the 6th LD, Erin Frasier, who's running for the State House Representative in the 19th LD, Connie FitzPatrick, who's running for the State House Representative in the 26th LD, and Tye Menser, who's running for Thurston County Commissioner.
Four PACs run by Glen Morgan, a conservative asshole who's known for flooding the PDC with campaign finance complaints, paid for the ads. The PACs, of course, use progressive-sounding names to establish credibility with the reader—Conscience of the Progressives PAC, Send a Message PAC, Real Progressives in Thurston County, A Brighter Thurston County PAC—but they're funded by conservatives.
On Friday, Morgan admitted to the Times that he wants Republicans to win.
The complaint calls the mailers "unlawful" under the Washington Fair Campaign Practices Act, arguing that Morgan makes a "false claim" about endorsements by implying that the labor unions and other progressive groups have endorsed these "write-in candidates" when they haven't. Though Morgan is clearly trying to get away with the fact that those organizations have endorsed the "write-in candidates" in the past, the attorneys say that the law's language refers only to endorsements issued in the present cycle.
In addition to arguing that Morgan filled out some paperwork wrong, attorneys for the WSLC also argue that the ads harm Purcell, Pakootas, Schlicher, and Zita—the four people NOT running in these races—by implying that they support the PACs associated with the mailers.
Finally, the lawyers conclude their complaint by claiming Morgan acted "with malice," pointing to the fact that he's filed "literally hundreds of citizen complaints" to the PDC, which suggests he's not ignorant of the law. They've also sent a cease-and-desist letter directly to Morgan, urging him to stop using WSLC's logo.
Kim Bradford, a representative for the PDC, says Morgan has two weeks to respond to the complaint, though he's not required to respond. The commission has asked for a response sooner "in rare cases," but Bradford said they recently adopted rules that holds open the response period for a full two weeks. After they get a response or not, they'll assess the case and determine whether it can be solved administratively, through a formal investigation, or by referring it to the Attorney General's office. That process could take 90 days. In short—this won't be settled before election day.
Bradford said the commission has received "two dozen" complaints about these mailers so far, but mostly from individuals who have personally received them and not from larger groups like the labor council. E.J. Zita, one of the "write-in" candidates who isn't actually running a write-in campaign, is one of the people who filed a complaint.
David Groves, communications director at the WSLC, says he's never seen anything like these mailers and claims the council is redoubling their get-out-the-vote efforts in those districts.
These mailers amount to a deliberate voter suppression effort perpetrated by annoying Republican activists. They aim to confuse voters into wasting their vote on a candidate who's not even running. They're resorting to bullshit trickery because, ultimately, they believe in nothing. The Democrats running in these races actually want to do something in Olympia. They want to tax the wealthy to fund schools, meaningfully address the opioid crisis, extend health care to all Washingtonians, and establish sensible gun safety standards. If you want all that, too—and why the fuck wouldn't you???—then tell all your friends to send Lewis, Frasier, and FitzPatrick to the legislature and help the Democrats secure their largest majority in years.
Morgan's flyers are starting to show up in the 47th Legislative District, too, where Democrat Debra Entenman is running a tight race against Republican Mark Hargrove, who The Stranger called the "Dumbest Legislator in the State" for his arguments against gay marriage. (Hargrove leads Entenman by a point.) The mailer suggests that the reader write in Brenda Fincher, a current Kent City Councilmember.
In a Facebook post, Fincher says she's not running a write-in campaign and is "shocked to see his deceitful mailer that used my image without my knowledge to siphon off Democratic votes in the 47th LD."