Amajor dump of significant Washington Supreme Court decisions today, including a decision sure to get lots of political attention; and another we think worthy of more consideration and thought.
The flashy ruling came in the oddly-named San Juan County v. No New Gas Tax, that radio political commentary is not a "campaign contribution" under the state Fair Campaign Practices Act.
We hold that the radio broadcasts at issue fall within the statutory media exemption (RCW 42.17.020(15)(b)(iv)) because they aired during the content portion of a regularly scheduled radio program, for which the broadcaster does not normally require payment, on a radio station that is not controlled by a candidate or political committee. Because the media exemption applies, the radio broadcastsare not a campaign "contribution" within the meaning of RCW 42.17.020(15)(a). Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's CR 12(b)(6) ruling, which was based on the trial court's incorrect determination that the FCPA required reporting of the radio broadcasts as campaign contributions and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
That may be the result that had to be: To draw the line anywhere other than between paid and unpaid air time would amount to opening an almost impossibly unclear boundary between contribution and commentary. (And if talk radio can be a contribution, why not blog entries? And if so, which?) There's messy territory here, when - as happened in this case, where a couple of Seattle conservative talkers basically spearheaded the (failed) campaign against the 2005 gas tax increase; putting their activities, which stopped just short of overt political organizing, in the case territory as editorials and news reports seems not quite right. But it will have to do.
The more fascinating read, however, was in Washington v. Timothy Jorden, which centered on a law officer's viewing of a motel registry.