State AG’s Office Wins Appeal in Freedom Foundation Campaign Finance Case

By The Chronicle

A Washington state appeals court ruled unanimously Tuesday in favor of a campaign finance lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson against the Freedom Foundation, overturning a trial court’s ruling in the case, according to a press release from the Attorney General’s Office.  

“This ruling is a victory for transparency in our democracy,” Ferguson said in a statement. “Voters have a right to know who is influencing their elections, and I am committed to enforcing the campaign finance laws that protect that right.”

The decision issued Tuesday by the state Court of Appeals, Division 2, rejects the Foundation’s argument and sends the case back to the trial court. 

“The Foundation’s interpretation of (the relevant statute) would lead to an absurd result,” the court decision states. 

The decision relates to a lawsuit filed in 2015 that argued that the Freedom Foundation failed to properly and timely file independent expenditure reports disclosing the value of legal services it provided to support ballot measures in Sequim, Chelan and Shelton. 

In 2014, the Freedom Foundation created a set of sample ordinances and ballot propositions to change local laws related to collective bargaining practices. Using the draft documents, community members in those three cities gathered signatures from citizens and filed ballot propositions, however, none of the propositions were approved for submission to voters. 

The Freedom Foundation then assisted the community members in filing lawsuits against the cities, asking the court to order that the propositions be placed on ballots. 

“Ferguson’s lawsuit argues that providing this legal counsel at no cost to the community activists constitutes an independent expenditure, which should have been reported to the Public Disclosure Commission under state law,” according to the press release. 

A trial court initially ruled against Ferguson’s argument, but has been overruled by the appeals court’s finding.

“As the State points out, adopting the Foundation’s position would create a large loophole in the (Fair Campaign Practices Act’s) reporting requirements,” the court wrote. “The public would be precluded from receiving information regarding the financing of local initiatives at the most critical time — when signatures in support of the initiatives are being collected. On the other hand, the State’s position is consistent with the primary purpose of the FCPA — to fully disclose to the public political campaign contributions and expenditures.”