In a nation that impeached a president for lying about a blow job, and in a state where confusion over the wording of a Harvard diploma qualifies as a front page scandal, you’d think our local media would jump on evidence that Dino Rossi perjured himself just days before the gubernatorial election, right? Well… not so much.
Two new depositions of Master Builders Association board members were released over the weekend, and so far our local media has turned a blind eye, despite the fact their testimony directly contradicts that given by Rossi, and sheds new light on the Republican’s role in the ever expanding Buildergate scandal. And no doubt the most damaging testimony relates to a phone call Rossi made to MBA President Doug Barnes in May of 2007:
LOWNEY: How long was your conversation with Mr. Barnes.
ROSSI: I don’t recall.
LOWNEY: Do you recall talking about any financial contributions.
ROSSI: That, I don’t think so. No, I don’t recall that.
LOWNEY: Did you talk about the 2008 governor’s race?
Well, that seems pretty cut an dried. Amongst the many things Rossi couldn’t recall during his deposition was any conversation about financial contributions. But when asked whether he even talked about the 2008 governor’s race during his telephone call with Barnes, Rossi definitively replies: “No.”
Unfortunately for Rossi, that’s not the way Barnes recalls the conversation:
LOWNEY: And what other issues did you speak with him about?
BARNES: Discussed the latest wedge with BIAW’s approach to us on this funding for the governor’s race.
LOWNEY: And what did he say about that particular issue?
BARNES: Mr. Rossi didn’t have specific — he listened and talked with me about what our differences were. There was no real: Okay, here’s a conclusion, here’s an answer, here’s a — it was more just listening: What are the issues that you have?
Huh. So Rossi claims they didn’t talk about the 2008 governor’s race, while Barnes says they not only did, but they even talked about funding for it. And just as important, Rossi “listened,” which contradicts his insistence that he had absolutely no idea, during the spring of 2007, that the BIAW was raising money for the governor’s race:
LOWNEY: So in 2007 in the April, May and June time frame, did you have any idea that the BIAW was trying to create a pot of money for the 2008 governor’s race?
ROSSI: I know they were trying to come together on supporting all candidates across the state that were pro small business candidates. … It was for supporting all small business candidates, Republicans and Democrats alike, and in a very general sense.
Okay, Rossi didn’t really insist that he had no knowledge the BIAW was raising money for the governor’s race, he just kinda sorta implied it by claiming the effort was for all pro small business candidates… not that legally, that is any excuse if he knew that one of those candidates might be himself. But we’ll get to the legal stuff later; for the moment, let’s go back to Barnes’ deposition, where he further details his conversation with Rossi.
LOWNEY: And how did you describe this latest wedge issue to Mr. Rossi?
BARNES: I said it was another example of BIAW – kind of “my way or the highway” is how I typically described it – and that I had two or three major objections with what they were trying to do and that it was way too early; there’s no need for us to even be having this discussion at this point in time. And that was the extent of that.
LOWNEY: And what do you mean, “it was too early”?
BARNES: They were trying to raise funds for an election that was going to happen 15, 18 months from now.
When Rossi is asked if he knew the BIAW was raising money for the governor’s race, he prevaricates; when he’s asked if he even discussed the 2008 governor’s race during his conversation with Barnes, he says “no.” Indeed, since the day this scandal first broke, Rossi has insisted that his numerous phone calls and meetings with MBA officers during the spring and summer of 2007 were merely intended to close the growing rift between them and the BIAW.
But as Barnes makes clear throughout his testimony—testimony that is corroborated by the official minutes of MBA meetings—the “wedge” that was causing this rift was largely focused on the BIAW’s efforts to pile up a “fund for Rossi,” and the MBA’s reluctance to earmark contributions to this fund at such an early date.
BARNES: I didn’t think that we needed to identify a specific funding source for something like this. If we wanted to contribute to a local political race or whatever, we would designate that funding source at that point in time. There’s no need to earmark funds in our budget.
Rossi also denies that he talked about the race for governor at a lunch meeting with MBA officers, yet MBA President-elect John Day, who set up the lunch, testifies in his deposition that this was the whole purpose of the meeting:
DAY: I wanted to get the chair officers together with Dino so that we could have an opportunity to try to convince him to run for governor.
Whether Rossi’s sworn testimony rises to the level of perjury, well, I’m no attorney, so I don’t know. But the depositions make clear that Rossi was much more involved in the BIAW’s illegal fundraising scheme than he has heretofore admitted, and that what little active participation he does acknowledge puts him and the BIAW in direct violation of WA’s campaign finance and disclosure statutes.
Rossi’s fallback position has always been that he wasn’t aware of BIAW’s efforts on his behalf and that he never helped them raise any money for the gubernatorial race, but that even if he did, that would have been okay, because he wasn’t officially a candidate at the time. But that’s not what the law says.
RCW 42.17.020, Definitions
(9) “Candidate” means any individual who seeks nomination for election or election to public office. An individual seeks nomination or election when he or she first:
(a) Receives contributions or makes expenditures or reserves space or facilities with intent to promote his or her candidacy for office;
(b) Announces publicly or files for office;
(c) Purchases commercial advertising space or broadcast time to promote his or her candidacy; or
(d) Gives his or her consent to another person to take on behalf of the individual any of the actions in (a) or (c) of this subsection.
And even Rossi testifies that at the same time he was talking with MBA officers—conversations these same officers testify focused on the 2008 gubernatorial race and the BIAW’s efforts to raise money for it—he was indeed considering a run for governor:
ROSSI: I was about 75 percent sure I wouldn’t run…
Of course, no astute observer of Washington state politics believes for a minute that in May of 2007, there was only a one in four chance that Rossi would run for governor, but even that admission is enough to establish that he was in fact considering a run at that time, which would have barred any participation in the BIAW’s fundraising efforts. Indeed, under state law, the very act of coordinating with the BIAW on their “fund for Rossi” made Rossi a legal candidate, and thus made such coordination illegal.
But I’m guessing you won’t read any of this on the front pages of our local newspapers, because you know… they wouldn’t want to play politics so close to an election.