All Politics is Local

When Carolyn Crain attacks: local GOP faces campaign finance complaint

The recent infighting in the local Republican Party now includes one of the hallmarks of many other political squabbles in Washington: a complaint with the state’s election monitor claiming someone filled out paperwork incorrectly. 

Earlier this week, GOP activist and precinct committee officer Carolyn Crain filed a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission against the Clark County Republican Central Committee. Her complaint alleges that Clark County Republican Party Chair Earl Bowerman used the wrong address when making donations to the party.

Bowerman previously lived in Lake Oswego, Ore. with his wife, Karen. The complaint alleges that the Bowermans’ improperly used their old address when reporting donations they made to the Clark County GOP. A similar complaint has been opened against the Cowlitz County Republican Party.

The enforcement of Washington’s campaign finance laws relies on citizens tattling on each other to the Public Disclosure Commission. In recent years, opposing political sides have used the complaint process to hassle each other for what often appear to be petty violations. Often times, the complaints are based on mistakes filling out paperwork and result in a wag of the finger or nothing. Other times, they’re more serious

Bowerman said that Crain’s complaint is based on an honest error when a Public Disclosure Commission form auto-filled with his old address and wasn’t caught before being filed by a consultant. The party’s response to the complaint states that the reports have been corrected. But Bowerman said the complaint is beyond petty because it has the potential to badly damage the party’s viability. 

Last year, the Clark County Republican Party reached a deal with the Washington Attorney General’s office over serious campaign finance violations. The party agreed to pay a $74,725 fine plus attorney fees and costs. As part of the agreement, half of the fine would be suspended for four years if the party committed no other violations. This means the party was on the hook for $46,726 to be paid off quarterly.

“So that is doing damage to the Clark County Republican Party,” he said of the complaint. “We’re on probation; our fine could go way up.”

Crain was supportive of an unsuccessful recall effort against Bowerman last month. When reached for comment, Crain said she came across the issue by conducting standard “Carolyn research.” She said that she found that Bowerman sold his house in Lake Oswego in 2015 before moving to Camas and there was no reason why his old address should have auto-filled. 

“The auto-fill is a poor excuse for having not entered public information accurately,” she said. 

When asked about the significance of Bowerman having his old address on  campaign finance forms and if it was part of some broader plot, Crain replied, “I don’t know!” She also said that the consequences for the party might not be so dire because the Public Disclosure Commission could respond with a lighter touch.  

“I certainly hope the vindictive crap stops in our party,” she said. “But it’s people.” 

Bowerman said that before he and his wife moved to Camas they had attended a Clark County Lincoln Day event, which he said is likely the result of the errant auto-fill. Public Disclosure Commission records show that Karen Bowerman made a donation to the party in May 2015, the same month the party held its annual Lincoln Day Dinner.  

Bowerman said that the issue could’ve been resolved through a phone call or email. But Crain said that Bowerman didn’t respond after two people told him to call her. She also said Bowerman blocked her on Facebook and that he has refused to let her ask questions about it during meetings. 

“He won’t let us speak, he gavels us down,” she said. She added, “At some point, you’re going to answer the question one way or another.”

Bowerman countered that she could have contacted other members in the party’s leadership to raise the issue instead of going to the Public Disclosure Commission. 

“You’ve got to wonder what her intentions are,” said Bowerman.