Attorney general office: County judicial candidate broke law

EVERETT — A Snohomish County judicial candidate broke state law by failing to “timely and properly” report an in-kind contribution worth thousands of dollars prior to the primary election, according to a civil complaint filed Monday by the state Attorney General’s Office.

The allegations levied by state attorneys against Cindy Larsen, a deputy prosecutor campaigning for Superior Court judge, stem from photos of her that appeared in a mailer supporting passage of Proposition 1. That was the countywide sales tax hike defeated in the Aug. 2 election.

A Safer Snohomish County, the political committee that conducted the campaign in support of the measure, spent nearly $54,000 on the mailing sent to tens of thousands of voters.

State attorneys contend Larsen benefited from the mailing making it necessary to disclose it as an in-kind contribution. They also contend the value of that contribution exceeded the $2,000 limit for a judicial race in the primary, another apparent violation.

“Based on its timing, media, value, area of distribution, and the fact that it identified a candidate for office, A Safer Snohomish County’s mailer constituted an electioneering communication,” reads the seven-page complaint filed in Snohomish County Superior Court.

The complaint seeks unspecified penalties as well as reimbursement for the costs of the investigation and attorney fees.

Greg Wong, Larsen’s attorney, said he could not comment because he had not seen the complaint.

Larsen led in the Aug. 2 primary and is facing Rico Tessandore in the Nov. 8 election. The winner will succeed retiring Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne.

On June 10, she and her children took part in the photo shoot for the Proposition 1 mailing. On July 7, she received a copy of the final draft in order for her to approve the photos and a quote attributed to her. Larsen was not identified as a judicial candidate in the mailer.

Days later, after the mailers arrived at homes, two county residents filed complaints with the state Public Disclosure Commission alleging Larsen’s failure to disclose the mailer as an in-kind contribution violated state’s campaign finance laws.

On Aug. 21, Robert Schiffner, a Moses Lake attorney, filed a citizen action notice with the Attorney General’s Office incorporating the same allegations. Under state law, Ferguson needed to act in some fashion on the complaint by Monday, otherwise Schiffner would have been able to pursue legal action against Larsen.

Public Disclosure Commission staff investigated issues raised in all three complaints and concluded that “it appears that the mailing was an expenditure conducted in cooperation, consultation, concert, or collaboration with a candidate.”

Larsen told PDC investigators she did not think the mailing aided her performance in the primary in which she received 44.8 percent of the vote. Tessandore finished with 34.1 percent.

Nonetheless, she told commission staff in an Aug. 1 email she wanted to do “whatever I can to come into compliance with reporting that contribution and reimbursing Proposition One for any contribution over the contribution limit.”

Commissioners voted unanimously Sept. 22 to ask Attorney General Bob Ferguson to take action against Larsen. They included the investigation findings with their request.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet Twitter: @dospueblos .

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