By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — Former state Sen. Dave Schmidt ended his dispute with the state Public Disclosure Commission Thursday by agreeing to a $10,000 fine to settle allegations he improperly pocketed tens of thousands of dollars following his unsuccessful 2006 re-election campaign.
Schmidt will have a year to pay the penalty arising from charges he improperly reimbursed himself $32,260 in unspent donations for wages he claims to have lost while serving in the Senate from 2003-06.
Under a stipulated agreement approved by commissioners Thursday, the ex-lawmaker also acknowledged using campaign funds for personal use when he spent $755.20 on airline tickets to Arizona for himself and a campaign worker after the election.
The case, stemming from a complaint filed in 2010, was headed to the Attorney General’s Office — where a much larger fine could have been levied — until Schmidt and PDC staff struck the deal.
A defiant Schmidt told commissioners in a hearing that he felt his actions fell within the boundaries of state law governing use of donations.
“There is no question I lost money campaigning,” said Schmidt, who participated in the meeting on the phone rather than drive from his Edmonds residence. “If I didn’t sign (the stipulation), it would go to the attorney general and I would need to hire an attorney and I can’t afford it.
“Bottom line, it was the lesser of two evils,” he said.
Schmidt, a moderate Republican, won a seat in the state House of Representatives in 1994. He served four terms before capturing the Senate seat serving Snohomish, Lake Stevens and Mill Creek in 2002.
Four years later, he lost re-election to Democrat Steve Hobbs. In 2010, the two met in a rematch and he lost again.
In the 2006 campaign, Schmidt raised $193,999 and had $32,260 left over at the end.
But Schmidt did not file reports detailing what he did with that money until the 2010 campaign was under way. Those reports revealed he kept the unspent money as compensation for earnings he said he lost when he missed training and other duties as a member of the National Guard because of the campaign.
A national veterans group that backed Hobbs filed a complaint with the PDC challenging the legitimacy of Schmidt’s use of the donations.
State election laws do allow candidates to reimburse themselves for expenses such as gasoline if its use is directly related to the campaign.
Phil Stutzman, director of compliance for the PDC, said Schmidt “was unable to provide any actual evidence” of campaigning on the specific dates for which he claimed reimbursement.
He said it appeared Schmidt realized after his loss in 2006 that he would be unemployed so he went back and found dates for training from 2003-06 and tallied them up as lost wages.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623, firstname.lastname@example.org.