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Rachel La Corte the Associated Press
Published: 13 December 2010

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- In the wake of controversy sparked by a political consulting firm that created dozens of political action committees in the last election cycle, a Democratic senator plans to introduce a bill that would reign in the proliferation of such groups.

Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, said he's in the process of drafting a bill that would prohibit one group from creating more than two committees at a time, and would require them to specifically state their intent. Pridemore said he also wants to prohibit one political action committee from funding another, which, he says, creates a ``shell game.''

He noted the recent case of Moxie Media, which created 40 different PACs in the last election cycle and is currently being sued by the attorney general over alleged violations of the state's campaign finance disclosure law during a primary election attack on a Democratic state senator.

``Moxie Media is obviously a showcase example, but it's by no means the only one,'' Pridemore said.

Currently, there is no limit on how many political action committees can be created by one group, and no restrictions on committees moving money to another committee. All of it can be traced on the state Public Disclosure Commission website, but Pridemore says that it's not always easily apparent to voters where the money is coming from.

``We want to maximize trust in the system, and the best way we get trust in the system is disclosure,'' he said. Pridemore said that he plans to unveil his bill before the end of the month.

Pridemore was recently named chairman for the Senate Government Operations, Tribal Affairs and Elections Committee. Earlier this week, the committee held a work session on campaign finance issues.

At that hearing, officials from the Public Disclosure Commission gave an overview of money spent in the past election, which saw a record amount of money, more than $60 million, spent on several initiative measures on the November ballot.

Pridemore said during the hearing that that while there will always be a debate on whether large amounts of money in the election system is good or bad, ``the issue that all of us should be united on, regardless of party or regardless of political ideology, is disclosure -- awareness of who's got the money and how it's being used to influence our system.''

``If we can see who is making the argument, it tells us a great deal about where they're coming from and what relative stock we can put in their arguments,'' he said.

Sen. Pam Roach, the ranking Republican on the committee, said that she's willing to

work with Pridemore and others to strengthen the state's disclosure and transparency laws.

``You have to find where you think you have a leak, and then go try and fill it up,'' she said after the hearing.

Doug Ellis, interim director of the state Public Disclosure Commission, mentioned several ideas that lawmakers could consider during the 105-day legislative session that begins Jan. 10, including tighter regulation on the number of committees a single entity can control, as Pridemore is suggesting.

Ellis also said that one of the idea lawmakers might consider is raising the fines against those who violate campaign finance laws. He notes that the highest the commission can fine someone is $4,200 for multiple violations, and that in cases where groups are spending up to $6 million on a campaign, some groups might see the fine as ``just the cost of doing business.''

Ellis said that while the commission would work with lawmakers who introduce bills on disclosure, the only bill the agency itself is putting forth is one that would require sponsor identification on telephone advertising, as well as so-called push polls. Under current state law, only third party groups paying for telephone ads as independent expenditures need to identify themselves; groups working with candidates and political parties do not, Ellis said.

He said the same transparency requirements that exist for things like mailers and TV ads should extend to phone calls.

``The public should have the right to know who's trying to persuade them,'' Ellis said.

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