Campaign finance, political advertising, and endorsement DON’Ts. The Tacoma Weekly’s endorsements are for sale, as part of an ad package. Violating our campaign finance laws, and creating legal violations for candidates who choose this very bad option. Let’s dig in! /1
After August primaries, the Tacoma Weekly sent candidates a letter, “Let’s get you elected!” Offering an advertising package with various ads on their website and their paper. The package was limited to just four candidates. /2
The advertising package was not unusual, but the extras were. As part of the package, the Tacoma Weekly offered: Weekly Editorial, A Cover Story, and Tacoma Weekly ENDORSEMENT! That’s right, for just $2500 any candidate could get the Tacoma Weekly’s endorsement. /3
And we have our first violation! RCW 42.17A.480.
A person may not solicit from a candidate for public office, ... money or other property as a condition or consideration for an endorsement, article, or other communication in the news media promoting ... a candidate /4
But surely no candidate would be so foolish as to fall for this blatant pay to play game! Well, we have found two who definitely got into bed with the Tacoma Weekly, and one more who we think has. Let’s name names! /5
First up, Javier Figueroa (Independent), candidate for Pierce County Council District 4! We suspected that Figueroa had taken the bait when this fluffy “article” was published on August 18. /6…
And it was confirmed in his recent expenditure report filed with the PDC. /7
This creates some problems for Figueroa. You see, that August 18 article was not really an article. It was an advertisement purchased for his campaign. Therefore, it was required to have the sponsor’s name and address. RCW 42.17A.320(1). /8
It also creates problems for Tacoma Weekly. Normally, the sponsor of the ad is responsible for compliance with the campaign finance laws. RCW 42.17A.340(1). But if the advertiser changes the ad, it is responsible for any failure to comply with the laws. RCW 42.17A.340(2). /9
But the Tacoma Weekly hasn’t just provided a glowing cover story (political advertisement) for Figueroa, they are also featuring his picture on their newspaper boxes around Tacoma! /10
Note that these photos, which are obviously advertising, also do not comply with the sponsorship requirements in RCW 42.17A.320. Is this violation on Figueroa’s campaign, or on the Weekly? /11
Foolish candidate #2 is Jason Whalen (Republican) a candidate for Pierce County Council District 6. True to form, here is the “cover story” purchased with his ad package from the Tacoma Weekly, dated September 1. /12…
This is confirmed by Whalen’s expenditure filing, which shows that he has also purchased the $2500 advertising, cover story, and endorsement package. /13
That means another violation of the “can’t pay for endorsements” law, and another failure to apply the advertising requirements to the “not really a cover story” campaign advertisement. /14
Oh, did I forget to mention that he's an attorney? Hard to claim ignorance of the law. /15
We can’t confirm foolish candidate #3 because the Federal Elections Commission is just terrible about timely expenditure reporting. Really, we are soooooo fortunate in our state to have the @Wa_PDC . Because tracking money in federal campaigns is tough. /15
Oops, that was /16
However, the Tacoma Weekly ran this puff piece “article” on Elizabeth Kreiselmaier (Republican), candidate for the 6th Congressional District, on August 25. /17…
Given the consistency of the Tacoma Weekly’s treatment of Figueroa and Whalen, it’s likely that Kreiselmaier has also purchased the $2500 advertising package, but we will have to wait and see whether the FEC filings confirm that, or if the pattern is otherwise confirmed. /18
So, you may ask, does this matter? The Tacoma Weekly advertises itself as having 108,000 readers, does it matter that it holds itself out as a legitimate newspaper, when it’s willing to sell it’s endorsements and it’s appearance of objective news coverage? /19
The Tacoma Weekly is trying to fool voters into thinking that certain candidates are better than others, but really it’s just a matter of who has paid them off. /20
It’s corruption. It’s wrong. And it’s against the law. /21
And the candidates who took this deal, who agreed to pay the Tacoma Weekly for fake news articles and endorsements, well they are engaged in some dirty politics indeed. /end

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