OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline) – On July 15, the Washington State Association for Justice, a trial lawyers group, agreed to pay the state of Washington $9,240 to resolve allegations it did not properly report lobbyist information.
The amount covers the penalties, costs, and fees associated with a case brought about by the Washington Attorney General’s Office over the filing of lobbyist information. It is required by the state that any organization actively interacting with a lobbyist and paying for such services either with cash or in-kind goods and services needs to report that interaction when costs exceeded $100 prior to December 2014 or $110 per month currently.
The case against the WSAJ started in January when Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office first received a complaint from the Freedom Foundation that alleged that the WSAJ had violated Washington’s campaign finance laws. The allegations didn’t arise because of any specific Freedom Foundation investigation; rather it came about somewhat by accident.
“The Freedom Foundation devotes significant resources to investigating and reporting campaign finance activities," David Dewhirst, counsel for Freedom Foundation, told Legal Newsline. "In this instance, our research team was reviewing a batch of records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act for a completely separate matter when they came across some items that caused them to dig a little deeper.”
These items were two contributions, together equaling more than $80,000, that were made in 2012 to two political committees - WSAJ Justice for All PAC and the Our Washington PAC. While the contributions were legal, they were allegedly not reported properly.
“What they found was what was reported to the Attorney General’s Office,” Dewhirst said.
On April 7, after an initial investigation, the state of Washington filed a complaint for civil and for injunctive relief against the WSAJ in Thurston County Superior Court. The complaint detailed the initial allegations further as the State accused the WSAJ of “failing to timely and properly report monetary contributions made by WSAJ to political committees in Washington.”
The court filing stated WSAJ's membership at 2,400.
For the Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Olympia, the verdict in this case can be seen as a validation of what Dewhirst describes as its “dedication to an open and fair election process where everyone plays by the rules.”