Lynnwood County Councilmember Joshua Binda was fined $1,000 for spending campaign donations on non-campaign items. (Josh Binda campaign photo)

Lynnwood County Councilmember Joshua Binda was fined $1,000 for spending campaign donations on non-campaign items. (Josh Binda campaign photo)

Binda fined $1,000 for misuse of campaign contributions

The Lynnwood Council member’s personal use of donor funds was a “serious violation” of campaign law, the state PDC concluded.

OLYMPIA — Lynnwood City Council member Josh Binda was fined $1,000 by the state Public Disclosure Commission on Thursday for spending contributions to his 2021 campaign on clothes, haircuts, dental work and other personal items.

Commissioners agreed to suspend half the civil penalty as long as the 23-year-old first-term council member commits no more violations of state campaign finance laws for four years.

“I understand the severity of this. I will acknowledge my wrongdoing,” Binda told commissioners in Thursday’s enforcement hearing. “I hope the PDC can see this was not intentional.”

The decision resolves three complaints filed in the final days of the 2021 election when Binda defeated Lisa Utter. It was his first run for office.

On Oct. 29 and Nov. 1, 2021, Glen Morgan and TJ Brooks filed complaints alleging Binda had misused campaign funds and not filed required disclosure reports on time.

On Nov. 2, the publisher of The Lynnwood Times, Mario Lotmore, filed a complaint accusing Binda of not making his campaign’s financial books as well as receipts, canceled checks, and other materials available for review as required by state law.

Two months later, in January 2022, commission staff opened a formal investigation of allegations in the three complaints.

They found Binda improperly spent $2,742.49 in campaign funds on plane tickets, car towing and tickets to events. That total also included $1,563 for Versace clothing, $326.90 for dental work, $228 for haircuts and $88 for a necklace. He later reimbursed the campaign for expenditures that were not campaign-related, Assistant Attorney General Susie Giles-Klein told commissioners.

State law prohibits personal use of campaign funds by a candidate, except when the money goes to cover lost earnings incurred as a result of campaigning, out-of-pocket campaign or campaign-related expenses, or repayment of loans made by the person to the campaign committee.

The investigation also found Binda filed a required post-election report summarizing campaign contributions and expenditures in December 2022, 280 days late.

Commission staff recommended a $2,000 penalty with half the sum suspended as long as there were no additional violations. Giles-Klein said the use of personal funds is a “severe violation,” but Binda’s youth, inexperience as a candidate and admission of wrongdoing should be viewed as mitigating factors.

Morgan, a prolific filer of campaign finance complaints, urged commissioners to not go easy on Binda.

Speaking in the public comment period prior to the hearing, Morgan called Binda’s actions “egregious” and encouraged them to impose “fairly significant sanctions in this case.”

If the fines are “so low that they kind of mock the campaign rules,” it will encourage similar violations by future candidates, he argued.

Lotmore had accused Binda of not allowing him to inspect the campaign’s finance books in a timely or thorough fashion before the election as required by state law. PDC investigators concluded Binda did not violate the statute.

In comments to commissioners, Lotmore questioned why it took so long to complete the investigation. If the panel doesn’t apply stiff penalties, he said, then what is the purpose of the PDC?

In September, Binda was fined $250 for failing to file a required personal financial affairs statement on time. Half of the fine was suspended on the condition he pay $125 and filed the required report within a month.

On Monday, Lynnwood City Council members voted to file a complaint against Binda for potential violations of city ethics laws.

In December, Binda made a video in council chambers, then posted it online to announce an upcoming speaking tour at area public schools. Binda will earn over $14,000 for those appearances happening this month and next, according to contracts obtained by the Herald.

Council members think their colleague violated a provision in city code that states “an official or employee shall not knowingly use his or her office or position for personal or family benefit gain or profit.” State laws also bar elected officials from using public resources, such as the council chambers, for personal gain.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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