Lynnwood County Council candidate Joshua Binda is the subject of two complaints with the Public Disclosure Commission. (Josh Binda campaign photo)

Lynnwood County Council candidate Joshua Binda is the subject of two complaints with the Public Disclosure Commission. (Josh Binda campaign photo)

21-year-old frontrunner faces campaign finance questions

As Joshua Binda closed in on a Lynnwood City Council seat, his campaign made unusual changes to public disclosures.

LYNNWOOD — In the days leading up to the election, Joshua Binda made changes to finance filings showing thousands of dollars spent on plane tickets, dental work, car towing, rent and tickets to events, among other things.

Binda, 21, a local activist, held a narrow lead Thursday in his race to join the Lynnwood City Council.

His state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) filings from the past several months are now the subject of two complaints with the commission, alleging misuse of funds and violations of campaign finance laws.

In an interview Thursday evening with The Daily Herald, Binda acknowledged he made mistakes but said they were corrected.

“It was not intentional at all,” Binda said.

He added: “A lot of this PDC stuff has been new to me, so I’ve been trying to figure it out.”

Binda said a volunteer treasurer made the filings that were later amended.

Glen Morgan has filed about 640 PDC complaints since 2016. They’re usually aimed at Democratic candidates and groups. His complaints, he said, have led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and settlements over the years. He said he first started getting calls about three weeks ago from both Democrats and Republicans about Binda’s campaign finances.

Morgan is surprised he didn’t catch the issues sooner. He filed one of the complaints.

It “really seems totally out of control,” he told The Daily Herald on Wednesday. “It’s so obvious.”

“The biggest question it usually raises is, ‘If they’re going to do this with publicly disclosable funds, what are they going to do with city finances?’” Morgan said.

Morgan pointed to over $4,000 in what he considers “personal expenditures” not related to the campaign. Those include multiple towing payments, groceries, office furniture, clothes and tickets for air travel and events. In the days leading up to the election, many of those payments were changed in disclosure filings.

For example, a $65 payment first noted for a haircut was apparently altered to be for “supplies and water.” A later filing noted over $400 for towing from June, reportedly for a volunteer’s impounded vehicle.

The complaint also highlighted thousands in campaign expenditures of under $50 that don’t have to be itemized. For example, from Sept. 1 to Oct. 11, the campaign listed over $1,500 in such expenses.

In his report, Morgan called for these payments to be revealed.

Binda took the blame for the mistakes in the filings.

“All my money should’ve been spent on campaign-related funds, and if they weren’t it was 100% reimbursed and I made sure of that,” he said. “I, of course, take full responsbility (for) that and accountability (for) the errors that were made.”

Riall Johnson, a consultant with the campaign, also wrote in an email that all payments in question have “been corrected or refunded to the campaign by Josh himself.”

“Josh will continue to comply with all PDC requirements, as he has all campaign,” Johnson wrote. “He regrets the errors made, but as a young first-time candidate that ran his own campaign, knocked thousands of doors himself, and did his own fundraising, there were bound to be mistakes made.”

For example, Binda said, the event tickets were a case of him accidentally using his campaign’s bank account. He said the cards look the same and he keeps them together.

In total, Binda’s campaign raised almost $27,000, including nearly $3,000 of the candidate’s own money. Of that, it spent over $18,000.

PDC Deputy Director Kim Bradford said in an email the commission reached out to the Binda campaign after a case was opened Monday. As of Wednesday morning, the PDC hadn’t received a response.

The finance issues were first reported by the Lynnwood Times, a news outlet owned and published by a Republican who ran for the state Senate in 2018. Binda called it a “smear campaign.”

As with any complaint, the commission has 90 days to figure out if the case can be resolved through a reminder, warning or small fine tied to an admission of a violation, Bradford wrote. It could also become a formal investigation if the violations are found to be serious.

The PDC can levy fines of up to $10,000.

This was Binda’s first run for office. Binda, a political science major at the University of Washington Bothell, has mentioned Congress and the presidency as lofty goals for his future.

He was winning with 52% of the vote, as of Thursday.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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