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Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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December 6, 2007 4:47 PM

The PDC vote on Rossi non-profit raises more questions

Posted by David Postman

The Public Disclosure Commission voted 3-2 today to dismiss a complaint against Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi that alleged he had used his non-profit foundation as a way to campaign without having to disclose his donors. But that doesn't mean the commissioners were convinced it wasn't an attempt by Rossi to dodge campaign laws. PDC executive director Vicki Rippie told me that even those commissioners that voted to dismiss worry about a loophole in the law that allowed Rossi to conduct political activity with the non-profit Forward Washington Foundation.

"There's concern on the part of all commissioners that the statute as written does not address all of the political activity that is taking place today ... with Forward Washington. ... None of them were totally comfortable with the activity that occurred."

I was on the road today and missed the meeting. The Olympian has a short story on its website.

The PDC staff had recommended that the complaint, filed by the state Democratic Party, be dismissed. Rossi has said that exonerated him and he called for Gov. Chris Gregoire to apologize for what Democratic officials had alleged about him.

Not that there was any chance an apology would happen. But now the PDC vote keeps the issue more alive than it would have been if there was a clear dismissal of the complaint. While the PDC investigation was underway, Rossi and his backers questioned whether the commission would be fair to him. When the staff recommendation was released late last month, it was Democrats' turn to criticize the PDC. Now, there's something for both sides to complain about.

Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz said in a statement today:

"Now that the PDC has acknowledged this loophole in the law, Republican Dino Rossi needs to come out of the shadows and tell Washingtonians who's been bankrolling his political activities all year ...quot; a prospective governor should not engage in covert fundraising and political activity in the shadows."

Ted Dahlstrom, executive director of Forward Washington, said he would not comment until having a chance to talk with the foundation's attorney who attended the meeting.

Rippie said there would be support to change the law to restrict political activity by non-profits, though she said it would have to be carefully crafted to withstand a constitutional challenge. She said the PDC has only seen a few examples of politicians creating non-profits in the state.

"But it is an approach that is quite common at the federal level and not that all uncommon in other states, so one suspects it was only a matter of time before it was imported here."

Forward Washington's activity would have been prohibited political work only if there was direct campaigning for or against a candidate. Just highlighting one candidate's qualifications, or criticizing another's, does not constitute the sort of direct advocacy the law restricts.

Rossi's campaign issued this statement:

From the very beginning, Rossi and the foundation bent over backwards to ensure they were following all public disclosure requirements. They obeyed the law and followed the advice of the PDC. After a very long investigation, the PDC found no evidence that he was a candidate while he was at the Foundation. Perhaps the commissioners felt the need to justify the five month long, taxpayer-funded investigation.

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