Glen Morgan speaks at a 2016 Libertarian Party Washington State Convention. (TVW)

Glen Morgan speaks at a 2016 Libertarian Party Washington State Convention. (TVW)

Controversial 2018 election mailers were audacious — and legal

Misleading postcards didn’t violate election laws because they touted non-candidates, the PDC found.

OLYMPIA — Few can identify the legal boundaries of Washington’s campaign finance laws as precisely as Glen Morgan.

A political conservative of the Republican persuasion, he’s attained notoriety as the most prolific filer of campaign finance complaints in state history, with 428 and counting as of this week.

In late October, however, Morgan himself became the target of an unprecedented number of complaints to the Public Disclosure Commission. Collectively, they alleged that a batch of creative and audacious mailers he cooked up for the 2018 general election violated the very election laws on which his reputation’s been made.

Spoiler alert: The mild-mannered activist isn’t getting pinched for those mailers, which urged voters to back write-in candidates who weren’t actually running — a fact Morgan knew.

The pieces went to voters in four legislative districts where there were heated races for House and Senate seats. Names of the Republican and Democratic candidates were crossed out and the name of a different Democrat, described as a “real progressive,” was scrawled next to a write-in box.

Each postcard made a convincing case and included an excerpt of an endorsement from the Progressive Voters Guide compiled by Fuse, a statewide coalition of labor and social progressives.

The content was accurate — though not for the 2018 election. It came from years earlier, when the purported write-in candidates were actually on ballots seeking elected office and got Fuse’s backing.

That’s what torqued progressives and spurred them to file 45 complaints. The fliers used that old stuff to attack a current crop of Democratic candidates. They considered it a manipulative strategy intended to divert votes from their endorsed hopefuls. In one race, which their candidate lost by 484 votes, some thought it worked.

Staff of the Public Disclosure Commission concluded Morgan didn’t cross any legal lines. Their read is that state law bars mailers from containing false statements of material facts against a declared candidate. In this instance, everything said in the mailers concerned non-candidates, and thus were outside the scope of the law.

“We’re a little bit shocked and appalled by the PDC’s response to the complaints,” Aaron Ostrom, Fuse’s executive director, said Monday. “It seems like a clear and compelling violation of the spirit of the law and very sketchy as concerns the letter of the law as well. Hopefully, the Legislature will decide this kind of deception and fraud needs to be eliminated.”

They also wish Attorney General Bob Ferguson had weighed in on whether Morgan’s ingenuity exceeded legal limits.

Peter Lavallee, the commission’s executive director and a former spokesman for Ferguson, did ask his former boss for an informal reading of the situation. Although his team had reached its conclusion pretty quickly, Lavallee figured a second opinion couldn’t hurt.

Lavallee made the request Nov. 8, aware of an approaching deadline for some kind of resolution.

Under a new state law, the commission had 90 days from the receipt of the first complaint to do something — act on it, dismiss it, investigate it further or refer it to the attorney general if the A.G. hadn’t already requested the agency do so. The deadline was Jan. 18, which gave Ferguson about 75 days.

Lawyers for a coalition of complainants, including Fuse, very much wanted Ferguson involved. They wrote him Nov. 27, sharing what they considered to be errors in the PDC’s thinking and urging him to engage.

Lavallee and Co. didn’t get a response, though on the day before the deadline Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Even did offer to provide an opinion at some point in the future if it would help. Lavallee politely decided to withdraw the request.

The situation played out pretty much as Morgan anticipated. He wondered how anyone could have thought he would violate laws he wields against others literally every day.

He didn’t think it had much impact on the election.

“But it certainly generated a heckuva lot of free media,” he said.

And, if lawmakers do make reforms, he predicts it could result in a “field day for me to file complaints.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@bothell-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.bothell-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Opinion

The state has too much money and it’s a problem

With revenues rising, budget writers are going to get lots of requests on how to spend it

On car taxes, Sound Transit says it gets it

But lawmakers and transit agency leaders are still far apart on how to cut the cost of those tabs.

‘We can do the right thing’ | Windows and Mirrors

Clarence Moriwaki shares how we can stand up for each other and not have history repeat itself.

Legislative ‘wants’ and ‘needs’

With a third of the legislative session nearly gone, lawmakers are starting… Continue reading

Throw in the towel on Matt Shea

Majority Democrats realize contentious representative is staying

Inslee vows to give state a clean fuel standard

The governor is trying again, with basically the same bill, confident of achieving a different result.

United Methodist Church: To split or not to split | Windows and Mirrors

Local clergy from Eastside United Methodist Churches weigh in on the church’s future regarding LGBTQ+ inclusion.

Policy fights, political tension loom for state lawmakers

A 60-day session begins Monday. They’ll tackle car tabs, homelessness and whether to expel Matt Shea.

With five elections, get ready to vote a lot in 2020

It will be a busy year as voters decide the fate of school bonds and help choose the next president.

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Despite ruling on Public Records Act, we need to keep a close eye on Olympia

Washington Supreme Court upholds that state legislators are subject to the Public Records Act.

Come for the conversation, stay for the friendships | Windows and Mirrors

Talk Time classes allow English language learners to practice their speaking and conversation skills.

King County Library System: continuing to build connections in 2020

From a green initiative, to census 2020 work, to an increasing emphasis on STEM, there is a lot on KCLS’s horizon.