The story stems from an event described last Thursday by Andrew at NPI. The event, held at the Redmond Town Center, was a benefit called “Women in Leadership, Addressing the Challenges of a Changing World.” Christine Gregoire was one of the speakers…
The Governor ended her remarks by announcing a surprise, instant auction to raise money for Darcy Burner. She offered a dinner for two at the Governor’s Mansion in December and kicked off the bidding at $100. The winning bid ended up being nearly $4,000.
As a result of this post, perennial political candidate and HorsesAss participant Richard Pope filed this complaint with the Attorney General. Not surprisingly, Stefan picked-up on the complaint and suggested some form of “corruption.”
Today’s Seattle Times picked up on the “scandal” that…
…raised an uncomfortable question for Gregoire: Is she selling access to the publicly owned mansion?
The complaint, filed by a Bellevue attorney who lost two elections to Gregoire, accuses the governor of misusing the mansion in violation of state law that bars state employees from using state facilities “for the purpose of assisting a campaign for election.”
The complaint, which will be investigated, could break new ethics ground in Washington. The Executive Ethics Board has never been asked to rule on use of the mansion for political fundraising, said Susan Harris, the board’s executive director.
But Harris and Gregoire’s staff say the mansion does not appear to fall under the law cited in the complaint because the building is also the governor’s home.
“We’d look differently at it if she was not required to live there,” Harris said.
Holly Armstrong, Gregoire’s spokeswoman, said the governor has not held fundraisers at the mansion. When Gregoire holds private dinners, which is how she sees the auctioned-off dinner, she reimburses the state for food and her chef’s time, Armstrong said.
“It’s where she lives,” Armstrong said. “She can invite anyone over for dinner she wants. She just can’t use public funds.”
Pope’s complaint does raise an interesting question, because in some circumstances the State of Washington is in the landlord business. In addition to the Governor, who is required to reside in the executive mansion, university presidents, faculty in university housing, students living in campus dorms, and residents of state-owned care facilities are all people whose residence is state-owned. Do all these people give up their right to political speech while in their residence?
In other words, does the law (RCW 42.52.180) that prohibits use of state property for political campaigning by state employees apply to a resident (tenant) in their state-owned home? I spent some time this morning looking through the RCW, WAC, university housing handbooks, the Ethics Board FAQ, and Washington State case law. I found very little relevant material. Apparently the question has not been generally addressed in this state.
The issue ultimately comes down to whether RCW 42.52.180 trumps the constitutionally protected rights to privacy, free speech, and free association for citizens in state-owned residences. It seems unlikely—even for people who, unlike the governor, have options for their landlord—that the law could be viewed as applying to an individual’s residence.
If the Governor and her family are not allowed to privately invite guests into their home for the benefit of a political campaign then it logically follows that a university student (who happens to work for the state) living in a state-owned university dorm, cannot legally make political campaign signs or solicit campaign contributions while in their own room.
Nope…the rights granted in the U.S. Constitution take precedence here.
In the specific case of the executive mansion, there are already guidelines in place, as Andrew reports from his communications with the Governor’s office:
…the Governor is perfectly entitled to hold private events at the mansion. The office added that there is actually historical precedent for this—dating from the Evans administration, when the issue was first raised.
The mansion has hosted many private events in the past, the Governor’s office says, including non-political functions (like a reception for the Boys & Girls Club).
No funds from the state treasury are used to put on private events, and guidelines from the State Auditor’s office are carefully followed.
So, congratulations to Stefan for actually getting noticed by the press (he seemed to be in something of a dry spell). But, in keeping with his record during last year’s gubernatorial election contest, I’m guessing that Stefan will end up on the wrong side of this issue.