By Curt Woodward Associated Press
OLYMPIA — The state should not take legal action against former Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi over allegations he improperly lined up campaign donations, state campaign watchdogs said Thursday.
On a 3-1 vote, the state Public Disclosure Commission declined to seek any enforcement action from Republican state Attorney General Rob McKenna, who handles legal proceedings in such cases.
In a massive report that took more than a year to produce, PDC investigators concluded that “based on the preponderance of the evidence, there is no basis for action against Mr. Rossi” or several construction-industry groups also accused of illegal fundraising in the 2008 governor’s race.
Rossi lost that contest to Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is now serving her second term. Rossi currently is mulling a 2010 race against U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
The campaign complaint revolves around the fundraising of the conservative Building Industry Association of Washington, which spent about $7 million to assist Rossi’s candidacy in the 2008 race. The BIAW is a plaintiff in a related lawsuit.
On Thursday, Rossi said he wasn’t surprised the PDC complaint was rejected, calling that effort and the related lawsuit — both spurred by Gregoire supporters — part of a pattern by Democrats to tarnish GOP candidates.
He pointed to a 2006 lawsuit against Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McGavick, which alleged that a $28 million payout McGavick received when he left Safeco Corp. was wasteful. That complaint was filed by attorney Knoll Lowney, a Democrat who also spearheaded the Rossi PDC complaint and a related lawsuit.
“Just connect the dots,” Rossi said. “It’s a tactic the Democrats use in a high-profile race to try to muddy the waters just before an election, to make it look like the Republican has done something wrong.”
Liberal activists, however, weren’t so sure that Rossi had been vindicated by the investigation. Aaron Ostrom, a spokesman for the Democrat-favoring political group Fuse Washington, said the PDC’s 181-page case file showed possible holes in Rossi’s story about fundraising for the 2008 race.
The overall claims center on conversations Rossi had with officers of a BIAW affiliate group, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, in spring 2007, at a time when that group was balking at contributing to the BIAW’s campaign fund.
The PDC investigation said that, as the complaint alleged, Rossi did talk with that association’s officials about the BIAW’s plans to raise money for the governor’s race, among other matters.
But in any case, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties never ended up giving money to the BIAW’s larger campaign spending fund, PDC investigators said.
Rossi said that when he spoke to those officials, he was still months away from deciding whether to run, and was just trying to get the groups to work together in a more general sense because they had similar goals — supporting candidates friendly to small businesses.