A group of 10 Woodinville citizens, including several City Council candidates, council members and others involved in local government, has filed a complaint saying the group Ethical Woodinville is breaking state law by anonymously advertising about political candidates.
The ads accuse Mayor Bernie Talmas of bullying and harassing other councilmembers and call him "Peeping Bernie."
Susan Boundy-Sanders, a current City Council member who’s running unopposed for reelection, filed the complaint with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) on Oct. 1. She and the other witnesses on the complaint claim that Ethical Woodinville’s anonymous website, phone calls and postcards criticizing Talmas are an unfair attempt to influence elections.
Ethical Woodinville’s communications haven’t specifically urged candidates to vote for or against a certain candidate; they’ve criticized Talmas, and sometimes Boundy-Sanders, then asked citizens to convince current council members to vote for stricter ethics rules. (Ethical Woodinville didn’t respond to requests for comment.)
But Boundy-Sanders cites campaign disclosure laws in the Revised Code of Washington which hold that communications that identify a candidate and are distributed 60 days before an election are intended to influence voters. RCW also states, "Nondisclosure of financial information about advertising that masquerades as relating only to issues and not to candidate campaigns fosters corruption or the appearance of corruption."
"It’s clear that this anonymous group is trying to affect the outcome of Woodinville elections," Boundy-Sanders wrote in a press release. "Washington campaign law gives people a great deal of freedom to say anything they want about candidates, including statements they know to be false, and Ethical Woodinville has made full use of that freedom. But the law also includes some requirements: They are required to identify themselves by name, register with the PDC, and report their contributions and expenditures. Ethical Woodinville has failed to do these things."
She adds that Ethical Woodinville hasn’t filed reports of its contributions and expenditures, as the law requires, and that the group is deliberately keeping its identity secret — for example, by using a proxy service to register its website.
"The layers of secrecy are clearly deliberate and comprehensive," she said. "The irony is that they’re claiming to be advocating for ethics."
Boundy-Sanders said that Woodinville’s history of anonymous communications during election season goes back to 1995, but Ethical Woodinville is "attacking more viciously and more frequently than ever before."
"They’re always anonymous, they’re always supporting Lucy DeYoung’s group of candidates and attacking the people trying to run against them," Boundy-Sanders said. "...The funding for Bernie’s opponent gives us a really clear insight into who has the motivation and the resources to take Bernie out."
DeYoung didn’t respond to requests for an interview. Walker repeated that he’s not involved with the anonymous group.
"I have no idea who Ethical Woodinville is or where they get their money from," Walker said, although he said people who donated to him could donate to other sources without his knowledge.
In addition to Boundy-Sanders, the witnesses on the complaint are: Candice Allen, Nancy Montgomery, Sharon Peterson, Art Pregler, Hank Stecker, Al Taylor, Peter Tountas, Paula Waters and Steve Yabroff. Although the group is trying to defend Talmas, Talmas himself is not a witness on the complaint, and he didn’t return requests for comment. Boundy-Sanders said she filed the complaint, rather than Talmas, because "he has a campaign to run," and she has time.
Lori Anderson, media contact for the PDC, confirmed that the PDC has received the complaint, but it won’t be reviewed until after the election since the PDC has to complete other investigations that are in progress.
The PDC staff will investigate the complaint, and the Director of Compliance will decide whether or not to file charges. If Ethical Woodinville is charged, the Commission will hear evidence from both Ethical Woodinville and the PDC staff who investigated. Ethical Woodinville could face a penalty of up to $10,000 per violation (if multiple disclosures weren’t filed or multiple parts of the law were violated.) The penalty depends on what information the public was deprived of, for how long, and how much money the group spent, Anderson said.