Elections

Campaign finance complaint centers on Tunheim’s campaign kickoff

A complaint filed with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission last month accuses the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney, who is up for re-election, of soliciting campaign donations from his employees while they were on duty.

Brian Drake of Olympia alleges Jon Tunheim violated campaign finance and disclosure laws that prohibit using public employees to campaign and soliciting contributions by public employees. Tunheim denies the allegations.

Tunheim is running against Victor Minjares for prosecuting attorney in the Nov. 6 election.

The complaint centers on Tunheim’s May 14 campaign kickoff event during work hours that was attended by the county’s chief deputy prosecutor and deputy prosecutors, according to Drake. Records filed as part of the complaint show Tunheim received campaign contributions from 10 of his employees the same day as the event.

In his written response to the PDC, Tunheim wrote that no deputy prosecutors were told to attend or otherwise expected to attend the event, and that those who did “did so at their own choosing.”

Tunheim noted that employees are allowed to participate in a campaign as long as it is on their own time.

Drake also submitted information obtained through a public records request showing the deputy prosecutors didn’t ask for time off to attend. But Tunheim noted deputy prosecutors are salaried and not required to ask for time off if it is for two hours or less. He wrote the event was also in the middle of the day and overlapped with their lunch period.

Drake’s complaint is still under initial review by the PDC. Once that is done, the PDC generally has 90 days to dismiss or otherwise resolve it or open a formal investigation, according to Kim Bradford, communications and outreach director at the PDC.

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But the investigation and enforcement process can be a long one. Bradford said the PDC currently has more than 400 open cases, including some for the 2017 election.

A check of recent enforcement cases on the PDC’s website — which is all the complaints filed that the office has jurisdiction over — shows few tied to Thurston County candidates.

In one complaint, Andrew Saturn, who is running for Thurston County’s Public Utility District commissioner, was accused of making false statements about his opponent, Linda Oosterman.

Earlier this month, the utility district’s general manager sent a letter to the commission challenging some of Saturn’s statements.

Abby Spegman: 360-704-6869
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