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Public Disclosure Commission recommends no action on complaint

Publish Date

Commission unanimously determines there was no evidence of elections law violation in inadvertent release of e-mail addresses during Public Records Act response

The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission today unanimously voted to recommend the state take no action on a complaint that information Sound Transit inadvertently provided in response to a Public Records Act request violated elections laws.

"Today's unanimous Commission action reconfirms what we have said all along: that this regrettable staff error was inadvertent and never intended to aid any campaign. Sound Transit rectified this mistake within hours of discovering it and has implemented procedures to ensure that it cannot be repeated," said Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff.

In April, Sound Transit received a request from a pro-transit organization for all e-mail addresses on file. Along with e-mail addresses that were required to be provided under state law, Sound Transit inadvertently turned over e-mail addresses that were exempt from disclosure requirements.

Following a complaint from a political consultant, the PDC staff's investigation as well as an investigation by an independent attorney hired by Sound Transit made clear that the staff who processed the public records request did not know that they were releasing email addresses that were exempt from disclosure requirements.

While the public records request was associated with advocacy for transit, it was not treated in any manner different than any other public records request. State law explicitly requires that an agency cannot consider the identity of the person making the public records request or the purpose for the request, but rather must treat all requestors the same.

The agency Public Records Act response inadvertently included a list of approximately 173,000 e-mail addresses of ORCA card subscribers who in 2011 had been e-mailed a survey related to ORCA. The response did not include names, addresses, or financial information – only e-mail addresses. Within hours of learning it mistakenly included the addresses, Sound Transit notified all of the affected subscribers and apologized. The agency also immediately notified the campaign organization of the mistake and secured verbal and written commitments to delete the addresses. Going forward, all ORCA e-mails will be maintained separately from information that could be subject to public disclosure.