Campaign regulators say Gregoire’s solicitation breaks state law

  • Wed Jan 27th, 2010 11:17pm
  • News

By Curt Woodward Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire violated state law by soliciting money for a congressional candidate during the legislative session, state regulators said Wednesday.

But Gregoire’s campaign committee, which sent the fundraising pitch, pointed to obvious ambiguities in the state’s guidelines for political donations and said there was no intent to skirt the law.

The issue arose Wednesday afternoon when Gregoire’s campaign committee sent an e-mail endorsing Democrat Denny Heck for the state’s 3rd Congressional District in southwest Washington.

In the e-mail, Gregoire asked her supporters to “take a moment right now to join the campaign by making a donation,” with a Web link to the donation page on Heck’s campaign Web site.

State law, however, bans elected officials from raising money for most political candidates during the annual legislative session. The blackout period, known as the “session freeze,” starts 30 days before the Legislature convenes and continues until lawmakers adjourn for the year.

In response to questions from The Associated Press, state Public Disclosure Commission spokeswoman Lori Anderson said Gregoire’s sales pitch for Heck would fall under that freeze.

“We don’t think that anyone subject to the freeze should be fundraising for other federal candidates, and we’ll work with the incumbents to make that clear to them,” Anderson said.

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who signed the e-mail along with Gregoire, also should not be soliciting donations for a candidate, Anderson said. It was unclear whether the agency would pursue any sanctions against either official.

The session freeze is aimed at keeping politicians from collecting campaign donations while they decide the fate of laws that could affect potential supporters or opponents.

State elected officials are allowed to raise some political money during the legislative session, provided it doesn’t benefit a specific candidate.

But the PDC’s rules leave room for interpretation.

For instance, the guidelines say fundraising is banned for a “known candidate,” defined as someone running for state or local office — no mention of federal candidates.

The rules also say state elected officials are allowed to raise money for their own federal campaigns — meaning the few state legislators running for the 3rd District seat could collect donations for themselves during the session.

But the state law underlying those guidelines clearly bans fundraising by elected officials for other candidates, whether federal, local or state, Anderson said.

“Maybe that’s something that we need to add through our rule-making and shore up a bit,” she said.

Kelly Evans, a spokeswoman for Gregoire’s campaign committee, said PDC officials called Wednesday to clarify those rules. She said all sides agreed the guidelines could be ambiguous.

“There was no intention here. As we read the law, this was allowed,” Evans said. “We will honor that now. We won’t be doing anything for Denny or any other candidate during this session freeze.”

Evans also pointed out that Gregoire has voluntarily gone beyond what is required of her in years past by declining to actively raise money until she is finished vetoing or signing bills into law — even though the session freeze technically ends when the Legislature adjourns.

Heck is one of several Democrats vying to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., in the 3rd District, which includes the cities of Vancouver, Centralia and Olympia. Heck’s campaign did not immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday.