Political parties should set example with campaign laws, not flout them

King County Democrats are being asked to explain why they failed to file campaign finance reports on time last year. The mistakes they are accused of are not trivial.

WASHINGTON’S campaign finance laws were designed to keep elections fair and transparent so voters have all the information they need to make a good choice, including who is supporting the candidates in a race. The Public Disclosure Commission, which is charged with enforcing those laws, doesn’t have enough staff to do a thorough job of monitoring every candidate and campaign committee in the state. But the watchdog work of that state agency is essential.

The PDC has been investigating the King County Democratic Central Committee for failing to file expenditure and contribution reports on time in 2016. Last week, the Washington attorney general’s office filed a complaint in Thurston County Superior Court based on the PDC investigation and a citizen complaint.

The accusations are significant, especially for an established political organization. Reports on a total of $65,442 in expenses and $74,261 in contributions were filed late, according to court documents. The attorney general’s office says the Democratic Committee failed to file any financial reports on time during last year’s election season. That means Democratic candidates in King County may have had an unfair advantage in some races, because clear information about donations and spending may sway votes.

Democratic Committee officials have not commented on the lawsuit but told The Seattle Times they would be filing a response.

Party officials should set an example for how these laws should be followed, not boldly ignore the rules themselves. The party treasurer doesn’t have any more important job than keeping up with PDC reports. To miss nearly 100 deadlines, as the legal complaint reports, is beyond careless.

If the Public Disclosure Commission had more staff to monitor candidates and campaign committees, transgressions like this one would become less common as groups like the King County Democrats would learn they can’t get away with ignoring deadlines and other important campaign laws in Washington state.