In defending her boss from allegations that he engaged in illegal fundraising months before he officially announced his candidacy for governor, Dino Rossi’s ironically named spokesperson Jill Strait reaches back to a December, 2007, Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) ruling to establish Rossi’s innocence:
“The PDC staff after a three-month investigation found no evidence that Dino Rossi had decided to run for governor before Oct. 11, 2007. Prior to that date, Dino made clear to the Master Builders, and anyone else who asked, that he had not decided whether or not to run for office. He was free to say whatever he wanted, to whomever he wanted, and he certainly did not ask anyone to do anything illegal or unethical.”
Um… that is not exactly true Jill, and I really don’t think you want to go there. For if reporters study the extensive documentation from last year’s PDC investigation in light of the newly revealed evidence, they may very well come to a strikingly different conclusion. Indeed, while the staff report concluded that there was “insufficient evidence” to legally prove that Rossi had been operating as a candidate within the technical definition of the statute, or that his Forward Washington Foundation was merely a proxy gubernatorial campaign, there was more than enough evidence to convince two of five commissioners to vote in favor of referring the case to the Attorney General’s office. As for the other three commissioners, according to the minutes of the December 6, 2007 meeting, they all expressed reservations about Rossi’s activities:
Commissioner Brumsickle commented that while he may wonder about the intent of the activities at issue, five months of investigation did not show facts determining an enforcement action should proceed in this matter.
Commissioner Schellberg commented that the staff recommendation is proper and although the activity in question was political activity, it is not regulated political activity. He suggested that Forward Washington voluntarily disclose its donor list.
Commissioner Tilly commented that while this matter was difficult and troubling, it has been determined by staff that the statutes were satisfied so as not to proceed with an enforcement action. Commissioner Tilly stated that in the future, the statutes may need to be amended by the Legislature to address this loophole.
And these were the comments of the commissioners who voted to dismiss the complaint. Not exactly the legal and ethical clean slate that Strait and Rossi claim.
Rossi has vehemently denied that he was campaigning for governor prior to officially filing his C1PC in October 2007, and yet we now know that he was calling board members of the Master Builders Association in May of 2007, urging them to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to “a fund for Rossi” that was expressly created by the BIAW with the intent of influencing the 2008 gubernatorial race.
In talking to the press yesterday, Rossi tried to have it both ways, both defending his actions and kinda-sorta denying them at the same time:
“This was in 2007, long before I was a candidate for governor. I didn’t ask them to put money anywhere but it would have been perfectly OK for me to do that because I wasn’t even a candidate.”
To which I ask my friends in the media: define “OK.” Was it “OK” because as a technically undeclared candidate there was no technical prohibition on him raising money for a technically undeclared independent expenditure campaign? Or was it simply “OK” for Rossi, who we all knew was running for governor, and who had been giving his same campaign stump speech around the state for two-plus years under the guise of the Forward Washington foundation, to raise unlimited, unreported contributions for a fund specifically intended to spend millions of dollars in support of his impending official candidacy… in flagrant violation of the spirit (if not the letter) of the campaign finance and disclosure statutes overwhelmingly passed via citizen initiative?
In recommending dismissal of last year’s complaint, the PDC staff report expressed the opinion that there was “insufficient evidence” to determine that Forward Washington was a political committee, but tell me, does the relevant law the report cites really not apply to the known activities of Rossi and the BIAW?
RCW 42.17.020(38) defines a “political committee” as any person (except a candidate or an individual dealing with his or her own funds or property) having the expectation of receiving contributions or making expenditures in support of, or opposition to, any candidate or any ballot proposition. To qualify as a “political committee,” an organization must have as one of its primary purposes “to affect, directly or indirectly, governmental decision making by supporting or opposing candidates or ballot propositions.”
And really… regardless of whether Rossi managed to skate through and around a legal loophole (a determination that won’t be made until months after the election), was it really ethically “OK” for him to be directly involved in raising hundreds of thousands of dollars beyond legal campaign contribution limits to finance so-called independent expenditures?
Dino Rossi has a long established track record of running dirty political campaigns, so why should our local media, which seems almost proud of its deeply profound cynicism toward politicians in general, accept Rossi’s explanations unskeptically? This thing just stinks, and you all know it.
There’s a lot more shit left to uncover in this Buildergate scandal, if only you look for it. And my advice is… follow the money.