Six controversial ballot initiatives that are still in the signature-gathering process are under formal investigation by the state Public Disclosure Commission, which enforces campaign finance and disclosure laws.
The six initiatives are the efforts of Let’s Go Washington and sponsored by Brian Heywood, a Republican mega donor and Washington resident.
One initiative would rollback police pursuit laws passed in recent years. Others include one that would repeal sections of the 2021 Climate Commitment Act, one that would allow Washington residents to opt out of the state long-term care payroll tax, one to repeal the capital gains tax, one that would prohibit a state income tax from ever being introduced in Washington, and one that covers parental notification.
Washington does not have an income tax.
The complaints were first filed in July by Heather Weiner, a consultant for Percussion Strategic.
A letter from the PDC to the attorney and treasurer for Let’s Go Washington in October shows that a formal investigation was opened after PDC staff conducted a preliminary review and assessment of complaints.
Two allegations are listed on the PDC website, one for failing to accurately file reports that reflect “in-kind contribution details for the expenditures made, and which initiatives were supported” and the other for “failing to properly disclose the identity of a vendor for some of the in-kind contributions received from Brian Heywood.”
Weiner told McClatchy in an interview that she believes Heywood is funding the initiatives almost solely by himself.
“And in funding it, he’s doing it in a way that is illegal, which is basically spending his own money and then reporting it later as an in-kind contribution,” Weiner said. “Which then hides to the public exactly what the money’s being spent on, and how much money they have in the bank total because one could assume if he is self financing that it is all of his money.”
Additionally, Weiner said it is impossible to tell how much Heywood is spending on each initiative because all of the work that has been declared as in-kind for all six initiatives has been lumped into one.
“It’s either really, really bad and deliberately trying to hide the ball, or it is just incompetence,” Weiner added. “Either one, not good.”
A separate complaint was filed by SEIU 775, Civic Ventures, Washington Conservation Action, and Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates. The PDC noted in an email to those groups that the complaints would be combined with the initial complaint.
Weiner said it is important for voters to know about the investigation because Washington has strong transparency laws regarding political spending.
“If a mega millionaire can subvert those laws for his own use, then everybody else is going to too,” she added.
She said that it also prevents the public from knowing where money is coming from and where it is going.
In an email to McClatchy, a spokesperson for Let’s Go Washington said that they “take the disclosure and reporting requirements by the PDC very seriously and spend significant time and energy using experienced professionals to ensure we are in compliance with the law.”
“It is unfortunate that radical special interest money is cynically attempting to weaponize the PDC; filing frivolous complaints and tying up the precious time of the PDC staff during the middle of an election,” the spokesperson wrote. “This effort is unseemly.”
Heywood also responded to McClatchy in the email.
“I am certain the special interests behind the complaints know that the initiatives are popular,” he said. “Their intimidation tactics will have no bearing on our ability to qualify the initiatives.”
The PDC prioritizes time-sensitive matters such as the initiatives, which need to have all signatures gathered by Dec. 29 to qualify to be placed on the ballot, according to Natalie Johnson, a communications specialist for the PDC.
Johnson said the PDC’s main goal is to get people into compliance with state regulations, and sometimes that can be settled simply by respondents working with the PDC.
Fines up to $10,000 can be levied by the commission for each individual violation for those who don’t come into compliance, and if the issue is big enough, it can be escalated to the Attorney General’s Office, she said.