State worker used state e-mail to promote Murray campaign event

A state employee in the Vancouver office of WorkSource used a state-owned computer and a state e-mail account in mid-August to solicit military veterans to volunteer for the re-election campaign of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

The e-mail message was sent by the employee from the Internet domain of the Washington Employment Security Department.

"First I would like to say this is not an endorsement, just a call out to Veterans who may be interested in assisting with a 'walk and knock' to remind people to vote," the worker wrote. "Specifically for Patty Murray. Whether you have voted for her in the past or are thinking of or planning to vote for her, the bottom line is she has done a lot for the veterans of our community."

The employee encouraged recipients to "take a look at the attachments I have included" and to contact Murray's local campaign representative if they were interested in getting involved.

The worker's name could not be confirmed this morning.

Although WorkSource is a public-private joint venture, Sheryl Hutchison, spokeswoman for the Employment Security Department, confirmed that the sender is a state employee and said the communication was a clear violation of several laws.

"It violates state law, it violates federal law, it violates policies of this agency, and, yes, disciplinary steps will be taken," Hutchison said this morning. "Most of the people in this agency are at least partially federally funded, so there are Hatch Act issues. On the state side, you are not allowed to use state facilities, supplies, time or equipment for any personal benefit or political work."

Asked whether the violation was a firing offense, Hutchison said, "It depends on the severity" of the infraction. "If it's the first time, it wouldn't necessarily be" grounds for termination, she said.

The department makes clear to employees its policies on use of state equipment for private purposes, Hutchison said.

"There is a core set of policies that everyone has to read and then sign that they have read them," she said. "In general, if we see this kind of behavior, action will be taken. We take this very seriously."

The e-mail incident was first reported by Bryan Myrick Sept. 3 on the website redcounty.com. Myrick called the lapse "a potentially serious misuse of public assets by a political campaign."

Myrick said he had sent a formal public records request to the Employment Security Department to obtain the attachments sent with the e-mail and has also asked for an opinion on the legality of the communication from the Office of the Attorney General.

Murray's campaign spokeswoman, Julie Edwards, had the following reaction: "We have seen the story. We understand that the Washington Employment Security Department is looking into the matter and believe that is appropriate."

The Democratic senator is in a tight race with Republican Dino Rossi for a fourth U.S. Senate term.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

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