Elections

Candidates play unfair?

It's a rite of campaign season: At least 25 election-law complaints have been filed against state and local candidates around Washington since June.

Some claims involve campaign disclosure reports not filed on time, while one points out a too-large contribution and others allege misuse of public resources.

As the state Public Disclosure Commission sorts through these complaints about out-of-bounds campaigning, it will check out three candidates wanting to represent Pierce County in the Legislature. The commission hopes to resolve the complaints before the Aug. 17 primary.

Ballots were mailed to voters last week.

Two claims were filed against legislative candidate and Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney, who spent county money to send out a piece of mail to constituents that opponents say looks more like a campaign flier than an official newsletter.

The mailer, with a large, color picture of a woman “stretching your county tax dollar,” is more slick than the newsletters Bunney sent out in past years. But he said it has the same purpose: keeping the people he represents updated on what he’s doing.

Complaints also have been filed against two legislative candidates seeking to represent the Gig Harbor area.

District 31 candidate Cathy Dahlquist has seized on Bunney’s mailer, calling on him to reimburse the county. She calls it campaign material that has “taxpayers picking up the bill to help him with his political career.”

Republicans Bunney and Dahlquist and Democrat Peggy Levesque are running for the House seat left open by Rep. Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, who is running for Bunney’s council seat. All three are trying to advance by placing in the top two in next month’s primary.

Bunney says he’s done nothing inappropriate.

“The week of ballots dropping, somebody’s going to make some allegation,” said the Lake Tapps politician. “I think that this (newsletter) is completely within the rules, and more importantly, I think it is very important to communicate with the constituents about how you are managing their important tax dollars.”

The PDC will try to figure out whether Bunney’s latest mailer fits within the parameters of the normal and regular conduct of a public agency, which would make it fair game, spokeswoman Lori Anderson said.

The details about how the mailer was produced – such as whether it was outsourced, and how much it cost – could be important in the PDC’s investigation. But no one on the Pierce County staff would answer a reporter’s questions about the mailer Thursday and Friday.

Council spokesman Brad Chatfield referred questions to council attorney Susan Long, who was out of the office.

Bunney said he found a way to make a more attractive newsletter while saving money for taxpayers. He wouldn’t say how, or how much it cost.

Bunney’s newsletters in 2006 and 2007 were multipage, text-heavy mailers with black-and-white pictures and the Pierce County logo, which the new mailers lack.

There’s no sense sending an “old-school newsletter that nobody reads because it just looks plain,” Bunney said.

If Bunney were an incumbent in the House, he would be barred from sending out the mailing, which went out sometime in the past month. Legislators can’t send out a newsletter more than 60 days after the end of the regular session, which was mid-May this year. For members of Congress, no franked mail is allowed within 90 days of an election.

But County Council restrictions on election-year mailings don’t affect mail sent before July 31.

In 2008, in the middle of Bunney’s unsuccessful run for county executive, he sent out postcards with two other Republican councilmen that cost taxpayers about $18,000.

OTHER LOCAL COMPLAINTS

Other complaints filed since June came in the 26th Legislative District, where Kitsap County Democrats have filed two complaints against Republican House candidates who are vying to represent the Peninsula area.

They objected to a piece of campaign literature by Doug Richards, a firefighter challenging Rep. Larry Seaquist. It shows Richards holding a firefighter’s helmet.

PDC spokeswoman Anderson said anything paid for by tax dollars, even a uniform, can’t be used in campaigning. But Richards said he’s in the clear; he paid for the helmet himself, he said.

Democrats also filed a complaint regarding the 2008 campaign of Rep. Jan Angel, in which a contributor appeared to have given more than the $800 allowed by law. Angel said the Rental Housing Association mistakenly gave her too much because of a bank account mix-up, and she plans to refund the money or apply it to her current campaign.

Such contribution discrepancies are not uncommon, the PDC said.

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 jordan.schrader@thenews tribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics

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