Randy Unruh has worked for the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission's enforcement division for more than five years. He was one of five investigators who looked into campaign misconduct cases until last year, when one of his colleagues was laid off due to budget cuts. And next week, PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson says, the state's latest round of budget cuts means Unruh will be laid off, too. That is, as we approach a major election, we've lost more than a third of the workers who help keep our elections clean.
"We're about following the money—that is the purpose of the PDC: to give the public the ability to follow the money in campaigns," Anderson explains. Already resources have been limited, she says. For example, when someone files a complaint or sends a tip about a politician failing to report donors, a PAC circulating campaign ads without identifying who paid for them, or a campaign sponsor illegally shuffling money from one campaign to another—there aren't always enough resources to look into the tips.
Put bluntly: This sucks for transparency.
It will be easier for people to get away with, in essence, hiding the money. It also puts more onus on reporters. Journalist are the first line of defense against campaign malfeasance. We notice something fishy or get a tip, and we do the legwork to show what's gone amiss. Then, typically, the PDC investigates. Sometimes they currently lack staff power to investigate—but when they do, they can dig deeper than a reporter. It goes to reason that, with more than one-third the investigators gone, more fishy campaign spending will slip by with impunity.