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Friday, September 10, 2004 - Page updated at 01:43 P.M.

Group running Senn attack ads agrees to register

By Seattle Times staff and news reports

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OLYMPIA — A group that has been airing ads attacking Deborah Senn's record as state insurance commissioner agreed today to divulge its donors after the state went to court.

The group, the Voters Education Committee, agreed to register with the state Public Disclosure Committee by the end of the day and disclose its donor list by 5 p.m. Sunday, said Gary Larson, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office.

However, the agreement does not end all legal action on the case. The Attorney General's Office will continue to pursue a lawsuit it filed Friday morning in Thurston County Superior Court, alleging violations of public disclosure laws.

Meanwhile, the Voters Education Committee is pursuing a lawsuit against the Attorney General's Office that it filed Friday in King County Superior Court.

At issue are television ads that harshly criticize Senn's record as state insurance commissioner, a position she held from 1993-2001. The Voters Education Committee has spent more than $500,000 on the ads, and has argued it has no obligation to reveal the source of the money because the ads do not directly campaign for or against Senn — they merely tell viewers about her record.

The ads were taken off the air by several Washington TV stations yesterday when the ads' sponsor refused a state agency's demand that it reveal who paid for the campaign.

NBC affiliate KING-TV and KREM-TV, a CBS affiliate in Spokane, were among the stations to stop running the ads after the group, Voters Education Committee, spurned a ruling from the state Public Disclosure Commission that it must disclose its donors. The group is paying about $600,000 for airtime in the Seattle market alone.

The five-member commission referred the matter to the Attorney General's Office, which headed to court this morning to bring more pressure on the Seattle-based group.

Voters Education Committee was little known until its ad blitz began late last month.

Its director, Bruce Boram, is also executive director of United for Washington, a group that represents state business interests. Valerie Huntsberry, record-keeper for Voters Education Committee, is associate director of United for Washington. The committee's lawyer, John White, is the attorney for the state GOP.

Boram, Huntsberry and others associated with United for Washington have said there is no link between that group and Voters Education Committee. White and others have said there is no link to the Republican Party.
 
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The PDC can levy fines up to only $2,500. The attorney general has more enforcement power and can seek greater penalties. In 2001, a judge ordered the Washington Education Association to pay a $400,000 fine for failing to follow state election law. The fine was later overturned on appeal.

Senn is running against former Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. Sidran and Republican candidates Rob McKenna and Michael Vaska have said they have nothing to do with the ads.

Senn has no shortage of enemies in the state's business community, starting with insurance companies she consistently fought while she was insurance commissioner from 1993 to 2001.

Boram, the Voters Education Committee director, argues that the group doesn't have to file with the PDC because the commercial is an "issue ad" that is not taking aim at a specific candidate. Boram says it is an assessment of Senn's performance in the job.

State law for disclosure on issue ads is less stringent.

The ad, which focuses on Senn's handling of the state's share of a national, $1 billion settlement with Prudential Insurance, says Senn "even tried to cover up the deal from state legislators."

Commissioners said that comment zeroed in on Senn's character.

"The advertisement, taken as a whole, represents an assault on Ms. Senn's character," Susan Harris, PDC assistant director, said in her report to the commission.

Boram yesterday said the group plans to report its finances to the Internal Revenue Service in October, as required for independent political committees known as 527s for the section of the IRS code dealing with them.

The group is outspending Senn on TV. The commercial was scheduled to run hundreds of times.

The Associated Press contributed the breaking news in this report.

Seattle Times reporter Beth Kaiman: 206-464-2441 or bkaiman@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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