Lynnwood publisher files new campaign finance complaint against Binda

Mario Lotmore of the Lynnwood Times says the city council winner wasn’t transparent enough.

Mario Lotmore

Mario Lotmore

LYNNWOOD — A third campaign finance complaint has been filed against a 21-year-old candidate who won a seat on the Lynnwood City Council this month.

The new case against Joshua Binda comes from Lynnwood Times publisher and owner Mario Lotmore, who ran as a Republican for state Senate in 2018. Lotmore wrote an article published Nov. 1, raising questions about whether Binda violated campaign finance laws.

In an interview Wednesday, the progressive candidate called it a “smear campaign.”

The first two state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) complaints, filed by other people, alleged misuse of funds. They came after Binda made changes to filings in the days leading up to last week’s election, showing thousands of dollars spent on plane tickets, dental work, car towing, rent and tickets to events, among other things.

Binda acknowledged mistakes and said he personally reimbursed the campaign.

The Lynnwood City Council will discuss potential litigation and ethics concerns related to Binda’s campaign finances in an executive session next week. Lynnwood officials have been in talks with the city attorney, Councilmember Shannon Sessions said at a Monday council meeting.

Now, in a story and a PDC complaint of his own, Lotmore accuses Binda of not allowing him to inspect finances in a timely or thorough fashion before the election. Under state law, campaign books must be open to public analysis during the 10 business days prior to an election. The finances must be available within 48 hours of a request for inspection.

Lotmore wrote he made the request at 2:47 p.m. on Oct. 30. The original inspection meeting at a Lynnwood coffee shop was scheduled for 1 p.m. Nov. 1, within 48 hours. Binda rescheduled for 4 p.m. that day, making it over 49 hours since the request, according to Lotmore’s complaint.

State regulations also say the books should reflect all contributions and purchases. Lotmore wrote the records he saw did not include all appropriate documents. He reported Binda’s campaign provided no bank statements, only a four-page transaction history that did not include all expenditures or the underlying receipts and invoices.

Lynnwood County Council candidate Joshua Binda. (Josh Binda campaign)

Lynnwood County Council candidate Joshua Binda. (Josh Binda campaign)

Binda’s campaign consultant, Riall Johnson, said that’s not true. They let Lotmore look through at least 10 pages of bank statements and transactions, Johnson said.

Given his position as owner and a writer at a news outlet reporting on Binda’s campaign, Lotmore runs the risk of a conflict of interest, said George Erb, secretary of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, in an email.

“By filing a complaint against a Lynnwood City Council member, Lotmore the publisher runs the risk of aligning — or even appearing to align — his news site with partisans,” Erb wrote. “Such an act would be contrary to the values of professional journalists, in particular the value of independent reporting.”

Erb, a journalism instructor at Western Washington University, added it’s “hard to see how the interests of either the newsroom or the business are well served” by Lotmore’s move.

Mike Fancher, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, wrote in an email he didn’t have a problem with Lotmore filing his complaint since it was central to his journalistic efforts. He said there are ethical challenges in this case and that the solution is transparency.

“At a minimum, Mario Lotmore’s biography on the newspaper’s website should include his candidacy and volunteering for the Republican Party,” wrote Fancher, the former executive editor of The Seattle Times.

But Fancher noted Lotmore’s work was vital to bringing Binda’s campaign finance issues to light.

The Lynnwood Times publisher did not respond to requests for comment.

Journalists sometimes file Public Disclosure Commission complaints when elected officials and organizations get in the way of their reporting. For example, Eli Sanders, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for The Stranger newspaper in Seattle, has filed complaints against Facebook and Google over their political advertising in Washington. His work has led to lawsuits filed by the state attorney general’s office and changes to company advertising policies.

As of Tuesday, Binda’s lead in the City Council race appeared insurmountable. He had almost 53% of the vote. He said he wants to go to City Hall with a “clean slate,” and he is excited “to be a strong voice for the community and represent them in the best way I can.”

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

Talk to us

More in Local News

A car breaks and waits for traffic to pass before turning onto 123rd Avenue on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021 in Lake Stevens, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Can roundabouts, lower speed limit make 84th Street NE safer?

Maybe, but transportation and disability advocates want design features to make crossing safe.

Two brother bear cubs, burned in a fire last summer, were recently reunited at PAWS in Lynnwood. (PAWS) 20211129
Bear cubs, burned in wildfires, reunited in viral video in Lynnwood

The brother cubs are being treated at PAWS Wildlife Center. They were injured in a wildfire near Lake Chelan.

Madison is one of three aging elementary schools that would be torn down and replaced if the Everett schools bond is passed next year. (Sue Misao / Herald file)
Everett school leaders have 2 big levies on February ballot

The district is asking voters to renew a levy for programs and operations, and to pass a $325 million capital and tech levy.

Everett officials have questions about a 125-room hotel shelter

City Council members say they weren’t aware of the county’s proposal until it made headlines.

A fatal crash prompted closure of West Mukilteo Boulevard between Forest Park and Dogwood Drive Friday afternoon. (Everett Police Department) 20211126
2 identified in deadly T-bone crash in Everett

Otila Retel Azanedo de Jones, 67, and William Jones, 85, died at the scene.

Reagan Dunn to take on U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier in 8th District

The Republican is challenging incumbent Democrat Kim Schrier in a district which could include a slice of Snohomish County.

A man died after he was found with gunshot wounds Saturday in downtown Everett. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Man dead after shooting in downtown Everett

The man, believed to be in his 40s, was found near California Street and Rockefeller Avenue.

Rear Adm. Christopher Sweeney, commander of Puget Sound-based Carrier Strike Group 11, in Bremerton on Nov. 23, 2021. (U.S. Navy/MC3 Justin McTaggart)
From Everett, this rear admiral commands a Navy strike group

Christopher Sweeney leads Carrier Strike Group 11, a force of aircraft and ships stretching from here to San Diego.

A rainbow appears in front of Andy Huestis and his girlfriend Alisha Garvin as they and other families gather to remember the victims on the third anniversary of the Oso mudslide on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 in Oso, Wa. Huestis' sister, Christina Jefferds, and her baby granddaughter, Sanoah Violet Huestis, were among the 43 people killed in the mudslide.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Funding secured: Mudslide memorial will be a place to remember

Since 2014, families have mourned at a roadside shrine near Oso, but “we knew we needed something bigger.”

Most Read