Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Finkbeiner and Toby Nixon, a former Kirkland- area legislator, today announced legislation to control the use of campaign "surplus funds."
The funds have been used for buying everything from liquor to business suits, iPads and cell phones. Yet state guidelines for their use and reporting deadlines are vague.
"These surplus fund office accounts should just be eliminated. They are a loophole in the law big enough to drive a truck through," said Finkbeiner, who is running for Lt. Governor. His opponent, Brad Owen, was cited in the article for failure to report the use of his fund for lavish lunches and liquor.
Nixon thinks that legislators do not want close scrutiny of their spending.
"The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) was created by a citizen's initiative and the Legislature works overtime to make sure it is underfunded and unable to keep a close watch on the elected officials," he said. "The best solution is to just take away these surplus funds. They're mostly funded by lobbyists and are part of the lobbyist-domination of the Legislature."
The Finkbeiner-Nixon proposal would eliminate surplus fund accounts. Excess campaign contributions could be returned to the contributor or saved for a future campaign.
They also urged the Legislature to bring PDC funding up to the level where the PDC could complete all investigations in three months or less.
They currently have 23 ongoing investigations dating back to last year," Finkbeiner said. "When someone doesn't file correct information, or no information, and the investigation takes 9 months, it is worthless. If the public is going to have confidence in the information being reported, the PDC needs the resources to be able to quickly and accurately account for them. The PDC needs sufficient funding."
"Our proposal makes the legislature more transparent and makes it easier for legislators to act independently," said Nixon, who is president of the Washington Coalition of Open Government. "If someone needs a suit or an iPad, they can just buy one like everyone else does."
The misuse of the funds was revealed in a recent AP article that ran in papers throughout Washington.
"I had a surplus fund account and used it myself to pay for my cell phone," said Finkbeiner. "But the misuse reported shows that there's no easy way to keep these folks to legitimate uses. Brad Owen and a number of other legislators gave money to charities -- which they controlled and had their families draw salaries from. So, even charitable gifts are used improperly. The best thing to do is to just shut it down."
Finkbeiner noted that of the $23,700 Owen had in his surplus fund account, over $15,000 came from lobbyists.
"Owen is going to lobbyists collecting money for his surplus fund account, then he's going and asking for money for his nonprofit, and then he's asking for money for his re-election campaign. How independent do you think someone like that can be?" Finkbeiner said.
Nixon said he would work with legislators to have bipartisan legislation drafted for the next session that begins in January.