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Tuesday, July 23, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Millions at stake as national GOP failed to report contributions

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Washington Republicans could be forced to forfeit millions in campaign contributions because the national GOP failed to report giving the money for more than a year.

Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, the state Democratic Party and dozens of lawmakers already have forfeited about $37,000 from two labor unions for a similar violation.

The Republican National State Election Committee gave $4.8 million in donations to the state party and legislative candidates during the 2000 and 2001 election cycle. But the committee didn't file the required form for out-of-state political committees that donate money in Washington state until March of this year.

Under state law, a campaign that takes money from an out-of-state political committee must forfeit the money to the state if the form, called a C5, isn't filed by the donor within 10 days.

That's what happened to Locke and dozens of lawmakers, mostly Democrats, last year. Faced with a complaint to the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), they forfeited contributions from two unions, the Inlandboatmen's Union and the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, because the unions hadn't filed C5 forms.

"What's good for the goose is good for the gander," said Paul Berendt, chairman of the state Democratic Party, which was required to send the state a check for $1,250. "Why aren't they doing this for the Republicans? It's not equal treatment under the law."

When the GOP lapse was first reported in The Olympian on Saturday, PDC spokesman Doug Ellis told the newspaper the Republicans were likely in the clear because there was no complaint against them and the national GOP had eventually filed its disclosure forms.

But yesterday, Ellis said the case was still under investigation.

"After looking at everything, it might be the same situation. Is late filing different than no filing at all? Maybe, depending on circumstances," Ellis said.

Chris Vance, chairman of the state Republican Party, said though the cases are unrelated, he thinks the Democrats are trying to "muddy the waters."

"More than anything else, this is the Democrats trying to distract attention from their own failure to report. ... They're doing this to try to take the attention off their own situation."

Vance said the cases are different because, unlike the state Democrats, the state Republican Party filed all of its reports on time and the national GOP came forward when they realized they hadn't filed the C5 forms.

The national Republicans "stepped up and said, 'We made a mistake.' The Democrats didn't do that until they got caught," Vance said.

He was confident the case wouldn't go against the GOP.

Vance said he didn't know what he'd do if forced to forfeit the party's share of the $4.8 million to the state.

"I assume I'd call the Republican National Committee and say, 'Help!' "

It's not clear how much money the Republicans might have to give back. In the case involving the two unions, the PDC tapped only campaigns with enough surplus money to cover the forfeiture.

The amounts were small enough that the campaigns simply forked over the money rather than incur the legal costs of fighting the case before the PDC or in court, Berendt said.

But the amounts donated by the Republican National Committee are larger. Dozens of lawmakers and legislative candidates got $1,200 apiece, and money to the state party came in donations as large as $600,000 because Washington was considered a battleground state in the 2000 presidential election.

Ellis said a PDC auditor discovered a similar lapse in a Democratic candidate's records and made courtesy calls to both national parties, apparently prompting the GOP's late filing earlier this year.

"Thank you for recently bringing to our attention (via a phone call) the requirement for the Republican National Committee ... to file Form C-5 with your agency," Republican National Committee deputy counsel Charles Spies wrote in a letter accompanying the form.

The case is unrelated to a separate investigation by the PDC into the state Democratic Party's failure to report massive contributions from national Democratic organizations.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau reporter Ralph Thomas contributed to this report.

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