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Wednesday, September 08, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Group running anti-Senn ad told to register

By Beth Kaiman
Seattle Times staff reporter

Deborah Senn is a candidate for attorney general.
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The political group behind a television commercial attacking attorney-general candidate Deborah Senn should register with the state and disclose its financial backers by noon tomorrow, the staff for the state's Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) decided yesterday.

The group, the little-known Seattle-based Voters Education Committee, is spending around $600,000 to run the ad repeatedly in the Seattle market — about equal to the combined television budgets for Senn and her Democratic primary opponent, Mark Sidran.

The commercial, which criticizes Senn's tenure as state insurance commissioner, is scheduled to run hundreds of times before next Tuesday's primary.

The Voters Education Committee's director, Bruce Boram, has ties to Republican and business groups and works as a consultant to the congressional campaign of Sheriff Dave Reichert. The group's attorney is also the lawyer for the state GOP.

The group did not report its financial supporters to the Public Disclosure Commission, arguing that its ad was an "issue" ad that doesn't urge viewers to vote one way or another. Issue ads have less-stringent disclosure requirements than most political advertising.

PDC spokesman Doug Ellis said the agency's staff, after viewing the commercial, concluded that it amounts to direct political advocacy.

Ellis said a 1990 state Supreme Court ruling on political ads held that when a candidate's character is attacked, there can be only one reasonable interpretation: that the ads' sponsors are exhorting the viewer to vote a certain way — and that requires disclosure of contributions and spending.

The ad accuses Senn of trying to conceal some of her office's activities from the Legislature.

The PDC has the power to levy fines and go to court to enforce state election law.

Senn's campaign yesterday began airing a new commercial that criticizes the secrecy behind the ad and lays much of the blame at the feet of Republicans.

Boram said the group will respond to the PDC, probably not with the information about its backers but instead with an argument about why it won't yet disclose the source of funding. The group plans to make a financial report to the Internal Revenue Service in October.
 
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Boram said the ad centers on an assessment of Senn's performance as insurance commissioner in the 1990s, and not an indictment of her character.

"We went out of our way not to do that," he said. He refused to say why the group is spending money to hurt Senn's chances.

Republican attorney-general candidates Rob McKenna and Michael Vaska, as well as Sidran, have said they have no ties to the ad and did not know about it in advance.

Pat Herbold, chairwoman of the King County Republican Party and a board member of United for Washington, said she had no knowledge of the ad and said the GOP is not behind them.

Senn's ad calls the Voters Education Committee a $1 million "smear campaign." Senn spokeswoman Karen Besserman said in an interview it is not known that the group will spend $1 million, but that's the figure the Senn campaign has heard.

Beth Kaiman: 206-464-2441

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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