By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — It took former state Sen. Dave Schmidt of Edmonds four years to explain how he spent tens of thousands of dollars during and after his unsuccessful re-election campaign in 2006.
It took another year for the state’s campaign watchdog to sort through the explanations.
And now it turns out many of the ways Schmidt spent a total of $41,518 may have violated state law and could prompt a hefty fine from the state Public Disclosure Commission.
In the largest questionable expenditure by Schmidt, PDC investigators, in a report issued last week, allege he improperly reimbursed himself $32,260 in unspent donations for wages he claims to have lost serving in the Senate from 2003-06.
Investigators further allege Schmidt improperly used the remaining $9,258 in campaign funds on personal use, including mortgage payments and association fees for the condominium where he lived and ran the re-election operation.
He also is alleged to have improperly paid for travel to legislative conferences not directly related to his campaign as well as $755.20 on airfare for himself and a campaign worker to go to Arizona after the November general election.
Schmidt denied misusing any campaign dollars.
“Everything I did I felt I was in the right,” he said. “They’ve been very nitpicky. I told them the rules are very broad. They are very open to interpretation.”
He said he itemized the dates for the lost wages and considered the conferences part of his legislative duties. He said using campaign funds to pay the condo-related costs seemed cleaner than paying himself the money as rent for the room used as an office.
And as for the trip to Arizona, he said he bought those tickets before the election.
“I was going down there to raise money from my brother who is a multimillionaire,” he said. “When I got down there, he said no because I had lost the election.”
The five-member Public Disclosure Commission is scheduled to consider the allegations Thursday, though Schmidt is seeking a postponement until January.
If commissioners uphold the findings of PDC staff, Schmidt could be fined up to $4,200 for misuse of the campaign funds and filing details of expenditures up to four years late.
Schmidt, a moderate Republican, won a seat in the state House of Representatives in 1994. He served four terms before capturing a Senate seat in 2002. He lost re-election to Democrat Steve Hobbs in 2006 and lost again when the two met in a rematch in 2010.
During last year’s campaign, a national veterans group challenged Schmidt’s claim that he lost wages because he could not do trainings and other duties as a member of the National Guard due to work as a senator and the campaign.
Richard Hegdahl of Bellevue, a leader of the Washington chapter of VoteVets.org, said National Guard members know they can make up missed training dates in most instances. He filed a complaint in October 2010, igniting the investigation that resulted in the report issued last week.
“It turns out it wasn’t a bogus claim,” Hegdahl said Tuesday. “We looked at it and said that’s not right.”
In the 2006 campaign, Schmidt raised $193,999 and ended up with a surplus of $32,260.98. On Dec. 30, 2006, he reimbursed himself all that money for earnings he claimed to have lost during the term.
“The law allows me to return the funds, transfer them to a caucus or party fund, give them to charity or use them in legal means for campaign expenses,” Schmidt wrote to PDC staff in December 2010. “Lost wages is one of the legal uses. Facing unemployment in two months and having no other job prospects at that time I decided to use the funds for lost wages.”
He identified dates from 2003 through 2006 on which he said he could have trained with his National Guard unit but didn’t because of his legislative duties and 2006 re-election campaign activities.
But Schmidt never provided the PDC with explanations for why he did not make up those training dates, according to the report.
The full report can be found at www.pdc.wa.gov.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com