OLYMPIA — A political committee seeking to recall Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney will pay a $300 fine for failing to disclose thousands of dollars worth of legal services provided by the attorneys spearheading the effort.
Under a stipulated agreement, the committee admitted to not “timely and accurately” reporting $16,260 of in-kind contribution of legal services by four lawyers who crafted the charges in the recall petition.
On Thursday, the state Public Disclosure Commission unanimously approved the agreement following a short hearing.
“We thought we were doing the right thing at the time,” committee chairman Colin McMahon told commissioners. “We think this is an appropriate resolution … so we can all move on.”
Meanwhile, a second recall effort came to a quiet and unsuccessful end Tuesday.
Monroe resident Lori Shavlik had been collecting signatures since May and faced a Dec. 1 deadline to turn them in. Snohomish County Auditor Garth Fell said no signatures were submitted.
“I think we will try and get in contact with her,” McMahon said. “We’ll reach out and see if she’s willing to redouble her efforts for the next four months with us.”
The PDC considered the complaint Thursday regarding the leaders of McMahon’s group, the Committee to Recall Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney. The complaint was filed by Glen Morgan, a conservative political activist who was not surprised by the PDC’s settlement of the case.
“They broke the law. That’s obvious,” said Morgan, executive director for the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights and a prolific filer of campaign finance complaints. “At least everyone admits it now.”
Under another provision in the deal, the recall committee will be able to accept contributions greater than $1,000. Current law imposes that limit on recall committees, while higher limits are allowed for other types of political committees.
The recall committee would lose that ability and face further punishment if it coordinates strategy or fundraising with any declared or potential candidate for Snohomish County sheriff. The committee is also barred from involving any Snohomish County Council member in its operations and decision-making.
PDC staff said there has been no evidence of any kind of coordination. McMahon said there won’t be, because the committee isn’t concerned with who gets the job if the recall is successful.
“Our focus is solely on removing Adam Fortney from office,” he said.
Public defender McMahon, criminal defense attorney Samantha Sommerman, immigration attorney Terry Preshaw and civil attorney Brittany Tri launched the recall effort in mid-May when they filed a statement of charges with the Snohomish County auditor.
A series of legal proceedings ensued as Fortney’s lawyers sought to get some allegations tossed out. The fight eventually reached the state Supreme Court, which on Sept. 10 issued a ruling making clear the final content of petitions. Signature-gathering began the next day.
Each of the four attorneys provided legal services in the months of May, June, July and August, but those services were not disclosed until Nov. 30. The values of the in-kind contributions were $6,400 for McMahon, $4,700 for Sommerman, $3,180 for Tri and $1,980 for Preshaw, according to the stipulated agreement.
When Morgan’s complaint was filed in August, the committee responded that the quartet was “doing this work ‘Pro Se,’ or ‘On Behalf of Themselves.’ Therefore, there has not been nor will there be any legal expenses accrued by the Committee.”
PDC investigators disagreed, saying there was no such exception and a report of the fair market value of the labor was required.
In a follow-up, treasurer Eric Halvorson sought to clarify that the quartet filed the recall charges as citizens who happen to be attorneys. They were not providing legal services to the committee but acting on their own, he said.
“As such, we are confident that we are reporting everything correctly and the appearance of misreporting is based solely on a mischaracterization of the petitioners as having provided services rather than BEING the petitioners (private citizens) themselves,” he wrote in September.
Those petitions, now in circulation, contain two charges tied to Fortney’s public criticism of Gov. Jay Inslee in April, when the sheriff stated in a viral Facebook post that Inslee’s stay-home order amid the coronavirus pandemic was unconstitutional, and that his deputies would not enforce it. A third charge asserts Fortney “exercised discretion in a manifestly unreasonable manner” by rehiring three deputies fired for misconduct by the previous sheriff.
To qualify for the ballot, the committee must submit at least 44,494 valid signatures of registered voters by March 9.
A couple thousand signatures have been collected so far, McMahon said. he said.
Now that the presidential election is over, he said, outreach will be stepped up.
With the limit on contributions removed, fundraising should improve too, he said. The committee reported $42,562 in cash and in-kind contributions as of Thursday, according to records posted online.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.