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Community group hit with campaign finance violation

A community organization that played a large role in the 2011 Bellevue City Council races has been given a $1,000 fine for violating the state's campaign finance laws.

The organization, Move Bellevue Forward, was fined by the Public Disclosure Commission after it failed to register as a political committee and report expenses to promote candidates.

Composed of former Bellevue politicians, and pro light-rail citizens, Move Bellevue Forward sent out mailers endorsing council candidates Claudia Balducci, John Chelminiak and John Stokes, all of whom won their races. The group also opposed Tim Eyman's tolling Initiative 1125, which lost in a statewide vote.

Move Bellevue Forward's mailer was sent out Oct. 18, at a cost of $6,615, a portion of which likely came from local developer John Su, according to the PDC, because the group's bank account only had $5,000 when the mailer was made.

The group became a political committee Sept. 27, when it first decided to send the mailer, according to the PDC. According to PDC regulations, Move Bellevue Forward should have filed as a political committee by Oct. 11 at the latest.

The group filed as a one-year political body on Nov. 30 – 24 days after the General Election. Move Bellevue Forward reported receiving more than $10,000 in September in October, and spending more than $8,000.

The PDC's action against Move Bellevue Forward stemmed from an Oct. 20 complaint from a resident, Geoff Bidwell, about the mailer, where he said the group was attempting to cover up its donors.

"Move Bellevue Forward - which is barely a Bellevue organization, since three of its five board members are based in Seattle - engaged in activity with the obvious intent to hide both the source and driving force behind this specific mailer, and potentially many beyond," Bidwell wrote.

The day before Bidwell's complaint, Move Bellevue Forward submitted a report to the PDC disclosing the expenses for the mailer.

Sue Baugh, president of Move Bellevue Forward, said in a statement to the PDC, that the board was unaware that its actions had changed the status of the group.

"At the time the pieces were mailed, Move Bellevue Forward did not realize that community advocacy groups such as itself, that are not organized for the purpose of supporting or opposing particular candidates or ballot propositions could, nonetheless, be subject to reporting requirements if they publicly endorsed a candidate or took a position on an initiative," Baugh wrote.

Baugh argued that because the group's primary purpose is not to take stances on issues or candidates, the issues in the 2011 election were key to their pro-transit goals and required their participation. Move Bellevue Forward should not be classified as a political committee, she said.

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