Politics Dems Charge AG with Conflict of Interest in Republican Ethics Case
posted by September 30 at 15:20 PMon
The Washington State Republican Party broke election law over the summer but hasn’t been punished. Last week, the state Public Disclosure Commission ruled that the party sent out three mailers that advocated voting for Dino Rossi, at a cost of over $150,000, in violation of state election law. The Republican Party paid for the mailers using a soft money account that is supposed to be used for general party-building, not to advocate for specific candidates. However, as you can see from parts of the mailers, they did advocate for a specific candidate.
As of today, the AG’s office hasn’t taken action on charges. Democrats are demanding that Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna seek an injunction against the Republicans. They’re also seeking that McKenna hire outside counsel to handle the case, citing the fact that Luke Esser, now chairman of the state Republicans, worked for McKenna in the AG’s office and at the King County Council. “There is a conflict of interest,” Steele says.
“Without an injunction in place to say, ‘Hey, shitheads, you can’t do this,’ there is nothing that stops them from doing what they did in the primary again in the general election,” says Steele. “They can flood the mailboxes of every person in the state with mailers for Republican Dino Rossi … even thought the PDC said it’s illegal.”
John White, Jr., an attorney for the Republicans, defended the mailers by explaining that they were sent “exclusively to members of the Republican party.” Under the top-two primary system, the party is allowed to define its membership however it wants, White said in a statement to the PDC. (Republicans have not returned calls for comment.)
But in its decision, the PDC said the mailers were “not permissible expenditures” as defined under state law. It then recommended that the attorney general’s office take “appropriate action.”
Janelle Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, says the AG’s office has not decided how it will handle the case, or if Esser’s involvemnet presents a conflict of interest. She notes that the office has historically prosecuted most cases on its own, rather that hiring outside counsel, even when charging defendants of the same political party as the sitting attorney general. “I think we will have an announcement soon,” says Guthrie. “Obviously, we’re not going to file it after the election.”