September 29, 2020
Editor’s note: This story is a little unusual because it involves a complaint that I made to the PDC following an article that I wrote in July.
Correction: Sharon Brown received the second highest number of votes in the primary.
The Washington Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) retroactively granted state Sen. Sharon Brown an exemption for her financial record due to her postnuptial agreement.
Brown is currently running for a local judgeship.
The decision means that she did not violate state rules when she failed to report her then husband’s assets in 2015, 2016, 2017. According to the PDC, the period prior to 2015 was beyond the statute of limitations for enforcement action.
“Incredulous,” said Benton County Democratic Chair Judith Johannesen when she learned of the decision.
Johannesen went on to say that if agreements between spouses can be used to avoid full disclosure, it frustrates the purpose of the reporting requirement.
The PDC requires that each year all candidates and elected officials submit financial information about themselves and their spouses as well as report campaign contributions and expenditures.
The reports give the public the opportunity to see if there are any conflicts of interest.
John Trumbo, a former reporter with the Tri-City Herald and a member of the Kennewick City Council, submitted a 50-page complaint to the PDC.
Trumbo listed 14 limited liability companies that belonged to Brown’s husband Fraser Hawley that Brown had not listed on her financial disclosure forms.
In its response the PDC explained the decision for the exemption.
The commission writes that it can grant an exemption if compliance “causes a manifestly unreasonable hardship on the applicant and that granting the modification would not frustrate the purposes of the Act.”
Brown’s attorney, Mark Lamb of Bothell, Washington wrote the commission that Brown “was unable to fully disclose financial information related to her former spouse due to the restrictions of a postnuptial agreement signed in 2005.”
The commission wrote that it granted her the exemption, “therefore relieving her of the obligation of full disclosure.”
Brown married Hawley in 2004. They divorced in Walla Walla County in 2018.
The complaint from the Observer addressed the $4 million that a business, partially owned by Brown and Hawley, owed Banner Bank. Brown had signed as a guarantor on the loan according to court records.
The Commission agreed with Lamb who argued that “the debt was not owed personally by Brown.”
In closing, the PDC finds, “no further action is warranted and has dismissed this matter.”
Brown has represented Washington’s Legislative District 9 since she was appointed in 2013. She served on the Kennewick City Council from 2009 to 2013.
Brown’s senate term will expire in 2022. This year she filed to run for a judgeship on the Benton-Franklin Superior Court. She received the second highest number of votes in the primary and advanced to the November general election.