Dino Rossi was deposed this afternoon as a witness in a lawsuit filed by Faith Ireland and Robert Utter, two former Washington State Supreme Court justices, and Chris Gregoire supporters.
The lawsuit alleges that the Business Industry Association of Washington broke campaign finance rules by coordinating its fundraising efforts with Rossi. Independent groups like the BIAW, that raise money for candidates, are not allowed to coordinate those efforts with the candidates they are supporting because groups like the BIAW are not limited in how much money they can raise from donors. Candidates are. The BIAW has raised $7.2 million for Rossi.
Attorney Knoll Lowney, who questioned Rossi, says today’s deposition was successful because Rossi’s testimony showed that Rossi’s involvement in the BIAW’s fundraising was “much deeper” than they originally believed. The testimony shows that Rossi made phone calls and held a lunch meeting with members of the Master Builders Association—an affiliate of the BIAW. The MBA minutes identify these phone calls and the lunch as fund raising meetings for BIAW-friendly candidates.
The lunch meeting, while noted in the original complaint, may constitute today’s “smoking gun.” Ireland and Utter’s original complaint simply speculated about the lunch. Today, Rossi confirmed that he took MBA members out to lunch in Bellevue in June, shortly after the apparent fundraising phone calls. And while Rossi refuses to acknowledge that the lunch was a fundraising lunch, his answer contradicts MBA meeting notes about the lunch which do link it to fundraising. (The lunch is discussed beginning on page 155 of the deposition.)
Rossi says what he did was proper because he was not an official candidate at the time of the calls and the lunch, May and June 2007. Rossi did not declare until October 2007.
Lowney’s colleague, attorney Mike Withey, belittled that defense during a press conference with reporters after the deposition, saying Rossi’s logic made a “mockery” of Washington state’s campaign finance laws. His point: If someone can line up hundreds and thousands of dollars from a group (that’s going to spend it on that someone’s behalf) by simply doing it before officially becoming a candidate, then the law is meaningless.
Withey also said there are several additional litmus tests for when someone becomes a candidate in the eyes of the state, including—knowledge and consent that someone is raising money on your behalf. (You’ll find the definitions of a candidate here.)
Withey identified Rossi’s performance as “the most obstructive” he’d ever seen in over 30 years. Lowney and Withey say they are filing a complaint with the judge about Rossi’s performance.
I’d like to report Rossi’s side of the story, but I was escorted out of his press conference.