Campaign Lawsuit Revived in Washington

     SEATTLE (CN) – The Washington state Supreme Court revived a 2008 election lawsuit accusing the Building Industry Association of Washington of illegal campaigning for the Republican gubernatorial candidate.
     In an 8-1 decision Thursday, the court reversed an appellate court’s dismissal of the case and found the plaintiffs presented “sufficient evidence” on whether the industry group should have registered as a political committee.
     Former Washington Supreme Court Justices Robert Utter and Faith Ireland filed the lawsuit in 2008, claiming the BIAW and its subsidiary BIAW-MSC used refunds from workers compensation risks to campaign for Dino Rossi in his race against Democrat Christine Gregoire.
     Before the suit was filed, the attorney general found that BIAW was not a political committee but BIAW-MSC “may have been,” according to the ruling. BIAW-MSC settled with the state for $242,000 in 2010.
     Utter and Ireland filed the suit under a provision that allows citizens to sue when the state attorney won’t.
     On Thursday, the court found that groups have to register as political committees if campaigning is “one of” their primary purposes, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud wrote for the majority.
     McCloud ruled that enough evidence was presented to show that campaigning was a primary purpose of the industry group and should be heard by a trial court.
     “The plaintiffs have established a question of fact as to whether BIAW had the support of a candidate as one of its primary purposes during the 2007-2008 campaign season. For example, the plaintiffs submitted BIAW board of director meeting minutes stating that ‘BIAW’s number one priority this campaign season would be to help Rossi get elected.’ A letter from BIAW’s 2008 president Brad Spears to BIAW members whose memberships were about to expire states that ‘BIAW is putting forth the largest political effort in the entire history of the association ‘to re-elect’ Dino Rossi as governor.” (Citation omitted.)
     Chief Justice Barbara Madsen dissented, saying the original allegations were addressed in the state’s investigation, which exonerated the BIAW and fined the BIAW-MSC.
     “The events in question that prompted the citizen inquiry in this case occurred the better part of a decade and two election cycles ago,” Madsen wrote in dissent. “One plaintiff is now deceased. The concern that prompted the citizen letter that started this process and the gravamen of the citizen complaint has been addressed. … It is time for the parties to move on.”

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