Washington's Public Disclosure Commission said Monday it's received nine complaints about a series of controversial mailers that were sent to voters in Thurston County and four hotly contested state legislative districts from coastal Washington to Spokane.
The mailers, sent by a conservative activist, suggest the Democrats in those races are too conservative and urge voters to write-in a "real progressive" candidate instead. Democrats immediately characterized the mailers as an attempt to suppress Democratic votes.
"This is dirty politics at its worst and we are absolutely livid about it, " said Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson in a statement. The Labor Council's logo, along with the logos of other unions and liberal groups, were used without permission on the mailers.
The man behind the mailers is Thurston County property rights activist Glen Morgan, who was sued in 2016 for his involvement in a robocall campaign to voters. In recent years, Morgan, a former Rochester school board member, has also filed hundreds of complaints against Democratic candidates for alleged campaign finance reporting violations.
On Monday, Morgan was unapolgetic about his tactics.
"I think that the outrage is way misplaced and blown way out of proportion," Morgan said. He insisted that he hasn't violated campaign finance laws and rejected the idea that he was trying to suppress votes.
"In what world is giving people more options to vote ... voter suppression?" he asked. "That is kind of a silly and ridiculous accusation."
Morgan is funding the mailers with $10,000 raised from the Thurston County Republican Party and another $10,000 from Mukilteo aerospace executive Peter Zieve who was a major donor to then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016 and who has come under fire for his views on Muslims.
Those donations went to two political action committees run by Morgan: A Brighter Thurston County and Send A Message. The mailers, in turn, were paid for by two other Morgan PACS: Real Progressives in Thurston County and Conscience of the Progressives.
According to Morgan and filings with the Public Disclosure Commission, the mailers were sent to voters deciding a Thurston County Commission race. The mailers were also sent to voters in the 19th Legislative District, which includes Longview, the 26th District on the Kitsap Pensinsula, the 47th District in south King County and the 6th District near Spokane.
In a complaint filed Monday with the Public Disclosure Commission, the Labor Council and other groups alleged Morgan engaged in a "dirty tricks campaign" that amounted to "a blatant attempt to mislead voters who might otherwise vote for the Democratic candidate in each race into casting 'throwaway' votes to the benefit of the GOP."
Specifically, the groups took issue with the use of their logos on the mailers and the suggestion that they have endorsed the suggested write-in candidate and not the Democrat on the ballot. "The false implication of enjoying progressive organizations' support not only harms the candidates, it also does harm to the organizations as well," the complaint said.
Morgan countered that the groups whose logos he used — which also include Fuse Washington and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 — had previously endorsed the candidates his mailers promote as write-ins.
"Their endorsements are accurate, they've never rescinded them," Morgan said.
According to Kim Bradford with the Public Disclosure Commission, the agency typically has 90 days to dismiss or resolve a complaint administratively or open a formal investigation. Generally, she said, the person accused of violating campaign laws is given two weeks to respond to a complaint, however under certain circumstances that timeframe can be sped up.