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Monday, October 20, 2008

Seattle Police Union May Be Skirting Campaign Finance Laws

Police unions have a very unique position in American politics due to the combination of power they can wield as a collective bargaining organization, the authority each member can wield as a police officer, the influence a police organization has that comes with the title of their office, and the influence they wield on elections with their endorsement activities during campaigns. In a sense, police unions are uniquely positioned to be the only union in the world that can actually control those who manage them and can directly influence the laws that govern them. If only for these reasons alone, it's important to hold these powerful agents of political power to the rules that govern how they may participate in the electoral process.

Prior to 2006, the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild, Seattle’s police union representing over 1000 uniformed officers, participated in campaign finance activities through a statewide political action committee for police officers called the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs (WACOPS) which raised $102,733 in 2004 and $98,450 in 2006 for various campaigns and had registered under full financial disclosure laws as required for organizations that raise more than $5,000 in an election cycle.

According to the campaign report filing made by COMPAS to the Washington State Public Disclosure Committee, in 2006 the guild registered its own PAC under the name of the Council of Metropolitan Police and Sheriffs (COMPAS) and the COMPAS PAC's reported funding was reported to be $145,835 for that year. That PAC was also registered under the full disclosure rules as required for an organization that raises more than $5,000 and the records show that this organization gathered most of its funds from two organizations, the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild and the King County Police Officer’s Guild and was registered to the same address as the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild.

In 2007 the guild formed yet another organization named the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild Political Action Committee (SPOG PAC) but this time registered that organization under the “mini reporting” exemption which is meant for small organizations that plan to only raise $5,000 or less AND only accept donations of $500 or less per donor, even though their last PAC raised much more than that. In 2007, the SPOG PAC raised nearly triple that limit, $14,638, in its efforts to get 3 sponsored candidates elected to Seattle City Council, of which it succeeded in getting 2 of them elected.

In 2008 the guild re-registered SPOG PAC as an ongoing PAC under the same mini-reporting rules , even though it raised more than that limit last year and had a prior PAC registered under full reporting rules in 2006, and raised $30,358 so far this year, all without any requirement to indicate exactly how it has raised or spent those funds as they would have under the full reporting requirements.

Who have they spent their money to support? How have they spent these funds? Who donated to their causes and how much did they donate? Such questions are important in this election cycle given the guild’s support of the Republican candidate for governor in the tight race between Dino Rossi and Democratic incumbent Christine Gregoire… but we can’t tell because the mini-reporting laws exempt them from having to report their activities.

Of course, it’s not that police related PACs are exempt from reporting laws, the King County Police Officer’s Guild PAC reports under the full reporting laws even though they only raised a little over $5,000 this year. The WACOPS, however, do still function but they may have also been attempting to skirt campaign finance laws by registering a second PAC, (WACOPPS) which shows its sole donor of about $112,151 so far this year to be WACOPS, thus shielding its list of donors as the original WACOPS is no longer listed.

We’re not sure why these two different police-related PACs are taking these steps to shield their donor lists and their expenditures because of the different methods they appear to be using to skirt Washington state campaign finance reporting laws and we’re not certain why they haven’t been called on it yet either, especially given the attention to campaign finance irregularities in this close and contentious election cycle.

UPDATE 10/22/08: A representative from SPOG PAC has verified to us that, even though they have registered under the less stringent "mini-reporting" rules, that they are still submitting the detailed reporting forms to the PDC that would have been required under full-reporting regulations, the links to which are not being published in order to protect the personal information of police officers who are the primary contributors to the guild's funds.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you should look and see that all C3's and C4's are up to date. You can see where they got their money from and where it was spent. So you're quote "Who have they spent their money to support? HOw have they spent these funds?" "Who donated to their causes and how much did they donate". All questions answered with a little more reserach.

They have complied with all full reporting guidelines, even though they say they are a mini-reporting group.

Packratt said...

I did check.

There are no C3 or C4 reports registered for the SPOG PAC in the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission database.

For all I know, there may indeed be some sort of exemption out there that allows them to file as a mini-reporting group despite that they have a history of raising more funds than allowed under those guidelines, but I don't see any detailed reports from that group.

Thanks for the comment.

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