OLYMPIA, Wash. Two former state Supreme Court justices who support Gov. Chris Gregoire took aim at one of the Democratic incumbent's most pugnacious foes on Friday, accusing the Building Industry Association of Washington of campaign finance law violations.
The retired judges, Faith Ireland and Robert Utter, say the conservative construction industry group has coordinated its election spending with such detail that it's effectively become a political committee, and must open its books to the public under state campaign disclosure law.
The builders group, commonly known as the BIAW, rejected the allegations and said it had been vindicated by state campaign finance watchdogs in a similar 1997 complaint.
Spokeswoman Erin Shannon said the BIAW was being targeted solely because of its conservative philosophy and ardent support of Dino Rossi, who is challenging Gregoire's in this fall's election.
"Rather than battle us on the merits ... they just want to lock us out of the arena," Shannon said. "It's a free speech issue, frankly."
Ireland and Utter want state officials and county prosecutors to investigate the BIAW, and are threatening their own lawsuit if the government doesn't act.
"Without enforcement, sneak tactics and last-minute ambush can unfairly influence the outcome of important races," Ireland said in a statement.
Ireland, Utter and their lawyers said the BIAW has violated state law by coordinating the collection and spending of money on politics, particularly this fall's Gregoire-Rossi rematch. Gregoire defeated Rossi in 2004 by just 133 votes, after three counts and a court challenge.
The BIAW, which has donated more than $1.4 million to political causes so far this election cycle, operates political committees that are registered with the state Public Disclosure Commission and report their income and spending.
But Ireland and Utter argue the BIAW is itself acting like a political committee by orchestrating in detail the money flowing from its members and into campaigns.
The judges say that could allow individual donors to the BIAW's political causes to remain unidentified, violating the intent of Washington's campaign finance law. For proof, they point to internal association documents obtained through a separate lawsuit.
Attorney General Rob McKenna said he would forward the matter to the Public Disclosure Commission for a preliminary investigation. Public Disclosure Commission officials said they could not comment directly since they didn't know the substance of Friday's allegations and might have to investigate them soon.