Saturday, January 26, 2008

"The public’s right to know of the financing of political campaigns… far outweighs any right that these matters remain secret and private.”

This is the second post in a series of posts reviewing Public Disclosure Commission Hearings regarding alleged campaign violations. Complaints are routinely filed by citizens, political parties, candidates, candidate staff, supporters, political organizations and employees of the Public Disclosure Commission, when alleged campaign violations have taken place.

Second Case: Geoff Simpson, State Representative from the 47th Legislative District

Background Information: On September 19, 2000, a complaint was filed by Senator Don Benton, who at the time was the chair of the Washington State Republican Party alleging violations of RCW 42.17.130 by Mr. Geoff Simpson, a successful candidate for State Representative from Covington, for use of City of Kent Fire District property and personnel in his 2000 election campaign ads. The Public Disclosure Commission held a Hearing In January of 2002.

RCW 42.17.130 forbids the use of public office or agency facilities in campaigns.

“No elective official, not any employee of his office nor any person appointed to or employed by any public office or agency may use or authorize the use of any of the facilities of a public office or agency, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of assisting a campaign for election of any person to any office or for the promotion of or opposition to any ballot proposition. Facilities of public office or agency include, but are not limited to, use of stationary, postage, machines, and equipment, use of employees of the office or agency during working hours, vehicles, office space, publications of the office or agency, and clientele lists of persons served by the office or agency: Provided, that the foregoing provisions of this section shall not apply to the following activities: (3) activities which are part of the normal and regular conduct of the office.”

Senator Benton filed a complaint against Geoff Simpson alleging a violation of 42.17.130 for the use of City of Kent Fire District property and personnel in his campaign literature. Attached to the complaint were portions of Mr. Simpson’s political advertisements containing: 1) pictures of Simpson wearing business attire sitting at a City Fire District desk, photos of Simpson outside with his family wearing a polo shirt with fire logo, 2) photos of Simpson garbed in fire gear, holding a fire hose, and wearing a helmet; 3) an ad with pictures of Simpson, the first dressed in fire bunker gear, the second in a fire department uniform taking someone’s blood pressure; 4) an ad containing pictures of Simpson working on a car in fire gear working on a car with other firefighters in firefighter gear; and a picture of Simpson standing outside of City Hall in business attire.

On December 21, 2000, Mr. Simpson was interviewed under oath by the PDC. Simpson told the PDC that the "4N" marking shown on the firefighter’s helmet is not an official fire department designation; that the other firefighters and all of the fire gear photographed were from the SEA TAC Fire Department, not the Kent Fire District. Furthermore, Simpson stated that it was his understanding that Fire Chief Jim Downs of the SEA TAC Fire Department gave verbal approval for Simpson to have photos taken at the SEA TAC Fire Department, provided that no department insignias were visible in campaign brochures.

Calvin Hoggard, City Manager for the City of SEA TAC told the PDC that “the City has a long standing policy prohibiting the political use of City facilities and equipment and prohibiting political activity by City employees while on duty or on City premises, in accordance with RCW 42.17.130.” The prohibition against political activity is clearly outlined in the Employee Handbook.

The Public Disclosure Commission filed administrative charges against Mr. Rojecki, a City of SEA TAC Fire Department employee and firefighter, who was also president of the local firefighter’s union, coordinated the photo shoot and arranged for the use of on Duty City of SEA TAC firefighters. In other words, the PDC is serious about enforcing 42.17.130, which forbids employees of public agencies to use facilities to assist in political campaigns.

This is a long and complex case with pages of testimony and evidence. But it is good example of how the Public Disclosure Commission interpets the use of public facilities and property for political use. If you would like additional information, please click the links below.

The Public Disclosure Commission fined Mr. Simpson $2,500 (with $500 suspended) for violating RCW 42.17.130.

The Public Disclosure Commission April 2006 Strategic Plan Progress report noted that 94% of candidates file reports on time.

No comments:

Post a Comment