FORKS — The state Public Disclosure Commission took the extraordinary step of fining Clallam County Commissioner Bill Peach $600 for four campaign finance violations.
Agency spokeswoman Kim Bradford said last week most PDC complaints are resolved by dismissal based on lack of evidence or taken care of by a reminder or warning to candidates.
Bradford said the fine amounts are set by state law.
Peach admitted he filed one contribution report late and three expenditure reports late, according to his Dec. 5 Statement of Understanding (SOU) with the PDC.
The PDC posted notice of the penalty, the complaints that led to it and the SOU on Thursday on its website at tinyurl.com/PDN-PeachFined.
Peach, a Forks republican, won re-election Nov. 6 to the Port Angeles-West End District 3 position over Democrat Mike Doherty.
The late contribution was a $20,000 personal loan he made to his campaign May 16, two days after he filed for the position.
Peach notified the PDC of the loan — the largest single contribution to any campaign in Clallam and Jefferson counties — 53 days late, on Aug. 3. It was four days before the Aug. 7 primary, in which Peach was the top vote-getter.
Peach also filed three late PDC reports Sept. 19 that accounted for $10,970 in campaign expenditures.
They should have been filed July 17, July 31 and Sept. 10, according to the PDC.
The agency was preparing enforcement proceedings against Peach when he signed the agreement Dec. 5 and paid the fine.
“I would like to avoid the time and expense resulting from a Brief Adjudicative Proceeding (Brief Enforcement Hearing) being scheduled by the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) staff,” Peach said in the SOU.
The fines were based on two complaints filed by Jim Lazar, an Olympia economist with family ties to Clallam County, and Craig Ritchie, a Port Angeles lawyer.
Peach said he thought the contributions were being filed electronically by his treasurer.
“It’s my fault,” Peach said Friday.
“I should have been monitoring the website and the first time I didn’t see my reports going through, I should have taken the issue up with my treasurer.”
Peach said Silver Moon Bookkeeping Services of Forks had sent emailed reports to the PDC that he later discovered were done with outdated PDC software and were not successfully sent.
“The fact is the system that was used to get the information to the PDC wasn’t working,” he said Friday.
“It was the software, and I was at fault for not realizing that the reports that were being generated by my treasurer weren’t actually going through, so I’m the one at fault.”
He said there was no bounce-back notification that the PDC reports were not going through.
“That’s the bug in the software,” said Peach, who filed reports four years ago when he won his first term.
“They didn’t know for quite a long time even though we thought the information was being transmitted.”
Bradford said candidates who file financial disclosure reports receive confirmation emails.
“That’s how the program works,” she said.
“I believe that was true four yeas ago.
“You would get a server error message if the connection to our site was not made.
“I do not know which version they had.”
The complaints by Lazar, filed Sept. 5, and Ritchie, filed Sept. 11, cited the $20,000 loan.
Beginning June 1, a cycle of reporting to the PDC began under which cash contributions and loans had to be reported no later than the following Monday.
Ritchie also alleged Peach violated state campaign finance laws by running four newspaper advertisements in Peninsula Daily News and its sister paper, the Forks Forum, that did not list Peach’s party affiliation as required by state law, and by not reporting expenditures for a radio ad, a website and a campaign booth at the Clallam County Fair.
Ritchie also said Peach benefited from a “doorhanger” campaign rack card that did not include party affiliation and sponsorship information.
By his actions, Peach “deprives the voters of knowledge of party affiliation, source of campaign funds and identity of sponsors,” Ritchie said in his complaint.
Ritchie was unavailable for comment Friday.
Lazar, an economist who said he watchdogs political campaigns in Washington state, said Friday he is “not really satisfied” with Peach’s response to the complaints.
Lazar said Peach “sounds apologetic” but he is still waiting for Peach to make his final report of expenditures to the PDC, due in January.
Lazar said he already believes Peach is late with some expenditure filings.
“I’m going to keep watching,” he said.
Bradford said candidates can loan themselves an unlimited sum to finance their campaigns but are limited to paybacks of up to $6,000 for primary election expenses and $6,000 for general election expenses.
Bradford said the PDC offered the option of Peach agreeing to the SOU on Nov. 29, two days after election results that declared Peach the victor over Mike Doherty were certified, and after PDC staff had discussed potential resolutions with Peach.
If Peach had not signed the SOU, the PDC would have considered opening a formal investigation based on the complaints, she said.
Ninety days after a complaint, the complainant can file a 10-day notice that they may go to court to resolve their allegations.
“Generally, we wait until late in the 90-day window to go ahead and launch a formal investigation,” Bradford said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].