Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Those mailers telling you to call your elected leaders? They may soon tell you who paid for them

A red laminated mailer with the words 'YOUR family-owned business and your home WILL be sold by the Tax Collector if Javier Valdez and Gerry Pollet have their way.' In smaller words, 'HB 1465 is sponsored by Javier Valdez & Gerry Pollet. Call Javier at (206) 905-8739 and Gerry at (206) 307-0409 and ask them to STOP supporting this double taxation on your family assets!' There is a photo of a white, blonde middle-aged woman praying and what appear to be her mother and daughter comforting her. A stamp on the photo says in large red words, 'FORCED SALE BY ORDER OF THE GOVERNMENT.'
Public Disclosure Commission
Public Disclosure Commission complaint
A mailer created by Don Benton, former Republican party chair for Washington state, attacking Democrat legislators in North Seattle in 2021 over legislation they sponsored. Under new rules, ads like this would need to prominently display its sponsors and donors.

Most of us get mailers during election season telling us who to vote for.

But outside of election season, it’s not uncommon to get a piece of mail or see a TV ad saying, ‘call your legislator about this bill.’ Unlike the election-season ads, these ones aren't required to include a disclaimer about who paid for them.

And if you wanted to go online and find out, you might not be able to right away: the disclosure rules give organizations and individuals up to 30 days to disclose their grassroots lobbying activity. That means an ad could run and have an influence and few people would know who was behind that influence for weeks.

All this could change soon.

A bill advancing through the Washington state legislature would require such ads to list their major donors on the ad. Also, when the legislature is in session, the bill would require groups lobbying the public to register who paid for and worked on the campaign within 24 hours of the ad being presented to the public.

"All we're really trying to do here is make sure that the public gets timely disclosure of these activities, particularly during the legislative session," said Sean Flynn, general counsel for the Public Disclosure Commission. The commission is the body lobbyists report this activity to, and they requested the legislation.

But the bill was sponsored by Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-North Seattle, who was the target of an "mystery mailer" in 2021. Some recipients of the mailer complained to the Public Disclosure Commission about it due to the lack of sponsor identification.

The complaint was closed with no evidence of violations given current grassroots lobbying regulations. Former Washington State Republican Party chair Don Benton responded to the complaint and stated he sponsored the "educational effort."

Some activists and grassroots organizers do oppose the bill, however. Among other things, it would require them to disclose both the employers and occupations of any donors who give more than $25 to influence legislation.

The idea behind that is, if a group raises a lot of money to influence a specific piece of legislation, the public should know if that money was raised from lots of employees at one company or in one sector (i.e., Microsoft, or ironworkers).

But nonprofits worry asking their donors to disclose their employers would discourage the donors from filling out donation forms, especially if their employer isn't involved with the legislation being influenced.

"Shining a light on Astroturf campaigns masquerading as grassroots activism is very important," Jon Pincus of Bellevue said in a public hearing on the bill last week.

"Astroturfing" is when special interests manufacture a groundswell of support or opposition to something they don’t like, and make it look like it’s from the grassroots.

"However, as written, the bill's requirements to disclose name, address and employer for all donations above $25 and the changes to the existing disclosure requirements for sponsorship would create a chilling effect for independent grassroots activism across the political spectrum," Pincus said.

The bill originated in the House of Representatives, but passed through it and then, last week, got through the Senate committee on state government and elections — meaning it's one floor vote from passage and heading to the governor's desk to be signed into law.

Updated: May 3, 2023 at 2:51 PM PDT
House Bill 1317 passedin the 2023 legislative session.
Scott Greenstone reports on under-covered communities, and spotlights the powerful people making decisions that affect all of us throughout Western Washington. Email him with story ideas at