A group of progressive organizations Monday filed a formal state complaint against conservative political activist Glen Morgan, alleging that mailers he sent to Southwest Washington residents last week misled voters with old endorsements.
Voters in the 19th District Friday received a mailer encouraging them to write in former Democratic candidate Teresa Purcell instead of current candidate Erin Frasier because Purcell is a “real” progressive. Purcell is not running and is campaigning for Frasier.
The mailer included a 2016 statement from the progressive organization Fuse Washington endorsing Purcell despite the organization’s 2018 endorsement of Frasier, a Pe Ell Democrat who is challenging incumbent Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen. Morgan’s mailer did not clarify that it was Fuse’s 2016 endorsement. Democrats called it a subterfuge meant to split the Democratic vote.
“This is a new low for Washington. Republicans have become addicted to bald-faced lying and shameless deception, and it has to stop,” Fuse Executive Director Aaron Ostrom said Monday in a press release. “Since 2008, Fuse has invested an enormous amount in making our Progressive Voters Guide a trusted and credible source of voting information for hundreds of thousands of voters each year. Republican Glen Morgan’s dirty tricks not only seek to confuse voters and hurt Democratic candidates but also aim to undermine the credibility of our guide.”
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 28 and Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii joined in the Fuse complaint to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission (PDC). Morgan’s mailer also listed them as Purcell’s endorsers.
Morgan, who has filed hundreds of campaign financing complaints against Democrats, including many directed at Purcell, said Monday that he believes he followed the state rules. He conceded that he should have added the year of the endorsements but said he quoted them accurately and fairly.
“They still endorsed (Purcell),” said Morgan, a Thurston County resident. “It’s statutorily correct and I think it’s going to be compliant. … Ultimately it will be what the PDC rules, but I believe I followed the statute.”
The PDC complaint, which alleges defamation, will have to meet a high bar due to First Amendment protections for Morgan to be penalized, PDC Communications Director Kim Bradford told The Daily News on Monday.
The complainants will have to prove actual malice, which is defined as acting “with knowledge of falsity or with reckless disregard as to truth or falsity,” she said.
In addition, the PDC will look at whether people who have previously run for office are still “candidates” and whether the use of an old endorsement could be defined as “false,” Bradford said.
“Then you have to look at it in the context of the mailer and what the implication was,” she said.
Once Morgan receives the complaint, he will have a chance to respond. Then the PDC has 90 days to resolve the complaint administratively or open a formal investigation, Bradford said, but by then the Nov. 6 general election will have been passed by several weeks.
The complaint also includes other allegations including not listing the party affiliation of the candidates on his piece, failing to list the officers of his political action committee and failing to include other information on his political action committee forms.
Morgan responded that the only other officer in his Conscience of the Progressives PAC is a treasurer, who is listed on his PDC forms.
He added that he thinks his mailers, which were also sent out about Democratic candidates in the 6th and 26th Legislative Districts, have been blown out of proportion in comparison to other political ads.
“Do they really think after I filed so many complaints, I would sit back and try to violate the statute? Maybe I’m that stupid, but I hope not. I try to be as compliant as anybody would be. I believe I followed the law exactly. They may want to read it again.”