An advertising insert calling fluoride “toxic waste” violates several state election laws, a complaint from a political action committee trying to add fluoride to Bellingham’s drinking water claims.
Bellingham Families Fluoride filed a complaint with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission saying the advertisement is from an unregistered political action committee calling itself Clean Water Health Advocates.
The complaint also says the advertisement did not provide an address for the group.
Shirley Jacobson, the woman who paid for the advertisement, contends she followed the law.
The advertisement, inserted inside the Oct. 19 edition of The Bellingham Herald, urged readers to vote no on Bellingham Proposition 1, which would add fluoride to the drinking water of more than 86,000 people.
Curt Smith, a retired dentist co-chairing the Bellingham Families For Fluoride committee, signed the complaint sent to the Public Disclosure Commission. He said fluoride opponents used the Clean Water Health Advocates name to avoid disclosing who is funding their effort. Under state law, political action committees and candidates can avoid filing regular reports on who contributes to campaigns by pledging to spend less than $3,500.
“One of the complaints is we are funded through big money from Seattle,” Smith said. So far, state financial records show Bellingham Families for Fluoride has raised $258,540 for its campaign, with much of the money coming from the Seattle-based Washington State Dental Association.
Jacobson filed the advertisement with the state as an independent expenditure, listing costs associated with the ad at about $1,500. She said she chose to publish the advertisement out of her own pocket, though she is active with the Citizens Against Forced Fluoride political action committee. She said she chose the name Clean Water Health Advocates because she did not want to list her name on the advertisement.
She said she didn’t know the advertisement might have broken state law.
“No one at The Herald told me I couldn’t do this,” Jacobson said. “I brought them the sample ahead of time so they could look at it and get it approved.”
This is the second time this election year The Herald has found itself involved in a dispute over political advertising. The Public Disclosure Commission formally investigated complaints over a June advertisement the Better Community Solutions political action committee paid to have inserted in The Herald. The commission later warned the committee to clearly identify its sponsors in future advertising and made two political candidates count the advertisement as in-kind contributions.
Jacobson’s advertisement appears to have slipped through the normal vetting process at the newspaper.
“We have internal controls in place for in-paper political advertisements and it was not reviewed in accordance with our normal procedures,” said Glen Nardi, president and publisher of The Herald.
The Public Disclosure Commission will examine whether or not the anti-fluoride groups had prior knowledge Jacobson was making the advertisement, said Lori Anderson, a commission spokeswoman. If the groups did, they would have to declare the ad as an in-kind contribution to their campaigns. Jacobson also may face fines.
Smith remains surprised trying to add fluoride to Bellingham’s drinking water has become such a contested issue.
“This whole thing has gotten so far beyond what I anticipated,” he said. “It has been a revelation.”