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Alexis Krell: Port of Tacoma, others agree to fine in Save Tacoma Water campaign finance case

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logoNews Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 10/13/2020 By Alexis Krell, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

The Port of Tacoma and others have agreed to pay a civil penalty for violating campaign finance law while fighting initiatives that were trying to limit industrial development on the Tideflats.

The Port, Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County agreed to a $34,000 fine, with $17,000 suspended, according to the agreement filed Sept. 30 and signed by Superior Court Judge Karena Kirkendoll.

“The Attorney General’s lawsuit against the parties claimed that the EDB and Chamber did not report legal fees and the Port used public funds in their lawsuit against the initiatives,” the Port said in a news release. “The Port, EDB and Chamber filed the lawsuit on the initiatives to protect the Port’s economic development mission. At the time, the filing of a lawsuit was not considered a form of ‘campaign activity.’”

The case stemmed from efforts by a group called Save Tacoma Water following citizen opposition to a proposed methanol plant on the Tideflats. Save Tacoma Water sought to require a public vote for new projects that would use 1 million gallons of municipal water or more a day.

The Port, Chamber and Economic Development Board went to court and argued the ballot propositions went beyond the city’s initiative power.

Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin agreed and blocked the proposals from the ballot.

Olympia public records activist Arthur West complained the three groups violated campaign finance law in their effort, and the Attorney General’s Office got involved.

Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper dismissed the case, the state appealed, and last year the appellate court sent it back to Pierce County for further proceedings.

“Both the Public Disclosure Commission and the Pierce County Superior Court found that no (Fair Campaign Practices Act) violations had been committed,” the Port’s news release said. “An appellate court later reversed this decision, shortly after the Washington State Supreme Court adopted a new interpretation of the FCPA law in another matter unrelated to the Port.”

The Port spent about $45,000 in public money to oppose the Save Tacoma Water initiatives. The chamber and EDB spent about $10,000 each.

“I am glad that we were able to reach a settlement plan to provide a solution to the issues presented by this litigation process,” Port executive director Eric Johnson said in the news release.

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©2020 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

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