Building industry political committee boosts underhanded tactics; Fleetwood returns check/ Noisy Waters Northwest

 

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October 25, 2019  Dena Jensen

Last month, the Whatcom County Affordable Housing Council (WCAHC) political committee got caught exerting effort to deny their affiliation to the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County (BIAWC), a trade and business advocacy organization, to the Public Disclosure Commission(PDC).

Had they been successful, this would have kept the committee looking friendly to getting people housed and not looking related to bringing profits to builders.  But there was evidence of BIAWC affiliation with the WCAHC which investigative writer, Sandy Robson, provided to the PDC. As a result, that affiliation is now shown, as of September 13, 2019, on the WCAHC amended C-1 report so that voters have a minor chance, at least, of running into that information.

Close on the heals of this amending of records, the WCAHC got caught in not bringing it to voter’s attention in their PDC registration that over 80% of their contributions had come from BIAWC members. Evidence of this was also provided to the WCAHC and subsequently the political committee has come into compliance with PDC rules related to those contributions as of October 2, 2019, by carrying a new title: Whatcom County Affordable Housing Council sponsored by the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County​ WCAHC.

Robson had first contacted the PDC about the affiliation of the political committee with the advocacy organization in mid May of 2019, and it took months of follow-ups with the PDC to ultimately gain PDC compliance regarding matters mentioned above. During that time, it turns out, other unsavory actions of this building industry political committee were being taken.

Turns out, in late August 2019 another political committee had formed, namely, the Coalition for a Better Northwest Washington. This is the political committee whose $120,000.00+ in contributions, to date, show $75,000.00 coming from oil giants, Phillips 66 and Marathon Petroleum Company. The committee is running prominent attack ads that twist the intent of statements (taken out of their educational context) made by current Whatcom County Council Member and 2019 candidate for Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu. There are also visual ads sponsored by the Coalition for a Better Northwest Washington, with cut-out images of Satpal Sidhu arranged next to U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Washington State Governor Jay Islee, as if Mr. Sidhu attended an event with them, which he did not.

Q: What other groups or companies have contributed to the Coalition for a Better Northwest Washington’s non-educational ads?

A: The likes of Western Refinery Services, Mills Electric, Associated General Contractors of Washingtons Build PAC and – oh – the Whatcom County Affordable Housing Council sponsored by the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County!

The $5000.00 contribution from the WCAHC is listed as an expenditure on their PDC page dated September 19, 2019.  The first time internet versions of the attack ads on candidate Sidhu seem to have surfaced was around October 19, 2019.

Building industry political committee contributes to local 2019 candidates

In a September 17, 2019 post about her experience communicating with the PDC about the WCAHC, Robson had mentioned contributions the political committee had made to candidates for office in past election years:

“In the 2015 Whatcom County election, the Whatcom County Affordable Housing Council political committee supported and contributed to pro-new jail Republican candidate for County Executive, Jack Louws, and pro-new jail Republican candidate for County Council, Bruce Ayers, and to Republican candidate for County Council, Kathy Kershner.

“In the 2017 Whatcom County election, the Whatcom County Affordable Housing Council political committee supported and contributed to Port of Bellingham conservative candidates Ken Bell and Dan Robbins, and to conservative County Council candidates Mary Kay Robinson and Tyler Byrd.”

For the 2019 election year the BIAWC’s Whatcom County Affordable Housing Council shows June 3, 2019 expenditures to the campaigns of Vote Tony Larson, Vote Kathy Kershner, Elenbaas 4 Council, Citizens for Brad Kelly and April Barker for Bellingham.

After I had seen the seemingly aberrant WCAHC contribution to only one Democratic candidate and knowing the distasteful background and resistance to comply with PDC rules that the WCAHC had exhibited I had emailed Bellingham mayoral candidate April Barker to inform her of what I was aware of and to suggest returning the contribution she had received from the WCAHC would show, “a commitment to good ethics, honesty and transparency with your constituents, and the upholding of critical progressive goals in our community. ”

Ms. Barker responded to my email, stating her decision not to return the WCAHC contribution, explaining, in part, that she did not think, “accepting $500 from the Whatcom County Affordable Housing Council in some way reflects negatively” on her or her campaign.

Those June 3, 2019 sums were not the end of candidate contributions for the building industry political committee, however. On September 19, 2019, the very same day they listed expenditures to the Coalition for a Better Northwest Washington, the WCAHC listed expenditures to the campaigns of conservative candidates David Ramirez for County Council, Paul Bulanov, Porter for City Council, Re-elect Mayor Jon Mutchler, and Vote for Ramon. Additionally, on that date, the WCAHC contributed a second time to Elenbaas 4 Council, Vote Kathy Kershner, and Vote Tony Larson. These are the names of campaigns of candidates which are endorsed by the Whatcom County Republican Party.

There was one more candidate expenditure listed on September 19, which like the one in June to April Barker, was another atypical contribution, this time to Democratic candidate for Mayor of Bellingham, Seth Fleetwood.

Since, I did not see a corresponding record of the contribution on Mr. Fleetwood’s “Fleetwood Seth M (Seth Fleetwood)” PDC page, I sent an email on October 24, 2019 to him and his campaign. I asked why I might not be seeing the contribution to his campaign from the WCAHC in his campaign’s PDC records.

Mr. Fleetwood replied the next day on October 25 and explained that he had received a check from the WCAHC on September 26, 2019, dated September 19, 2019. He said he did not cash it, but kept it on his desk amongst numerous other materials and did not remember about it until I wrote him. He went on to say that he had called the PDC that same day he was writing me. He said the PDC instructed him how his campaign should note receiving the check, report the contribution, and that Mr. Fleetwood declined and returned it. He added that he had mailed the check back to the WCAHC.

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