Snohomish County Sheriff candidate Adam Fortney during an Everett Council of Neighborhoods forum on Monday, Oct. 16, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Snohomish County Sheriff candidate Adam Fortney during an Everett Council of Neighborhoods forum on Monday, Oct. 16, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Days before election, sheriff admits violating campaign finance law

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney agreed to pay a $450 fine after he was accused of accepting contributions over state limits.

EVERETT — Less than a week before election day, Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney acknowledged violating state law by accepting campaign contributions over the state limit and filing inaccurate financial reports.

On Wednesday, the sheriff, who was elected in 2019, agreed to pay a $450 fine, in lieu of a state Public Disclosure Commission enforcement hearing.

“I would like to avoid the time and expense resulting from a Brief Adjudicative Proceeding,” Fortney wrote in a letter to the commission Wednesday. “Therefore, in lieu of a hearing, I acknowledge that the campaign violated Washington law.”

This comes just days before a contentious election that will decide who will serve as Snohomish County’s top law enforcement officer. The race between Fortney, a tough-on-crime former sheriff’s deputy, and Bothell’s Deputy Police Chief Susanna Johnson, who made it to the upper echelons of sheriff’s office leadership before briefly retiring, has brought in upward of $430,000 in campaign contributions. On election night Tuesday, it will be perhaps the most closely watched race in the county.

“I would comment that it is disappointing and that it’s concerning how it reflects on law enforcement, broadly,” Johnson said Friday of her opponent’s campaign finance violations.

Fortney, who has been outspoken on social media in recent weeks about his disdain for The Daily Herald’s coverage of the race, didn’t respond Friday.

Under state law, campaigns for county office can only accept $1,200 per donor for each election on their ballot. Since the county sheriff’s race only had two candidates, it wasn’t on the August primary ballot. So Fortney and Johnson would only be on the general election ballot, making the limit $1,200.

The complaint in question, filed with the Public Disclosure Commission in August, alleged Fortney accepted $4,600 in contributions above the limits. These excess contributions included money from a former chair of the county Republican Party, a bureau chief at the sheriff’s office and the chief executive officer of a local homebuilding company.

Later, the complainant, Angela Robinson, alleged some other contributions over the limit may have been revised in the campaign’s finance reports to fit under the state-mandated limits.

In an email to the commission, Fortney reported he had refunded the overages after the complaints surfaced.

“I wanted you to know I have hired a new treasurer and I have paid for a full audit of my books and I am in the process of refunding all overages,” he wrote in late August. “We knew about the overages, I just had to take a bit of time to get the new treasurer up to speed and reconcile the books.”

The audit found $4,300 more in contributions to Fortney’s campaign over the limits. He reported paying that money back as well.

In October, he addressed the other allegations regarding revising financial reports to show contributions as fitting under the state’s limits. Fortney told the commission he was working on correcting the mistakes.

“I think I have been open and transparent with all of this, and I have clearly acknowledged where I have made a mistake and I have proven my steps in correcting all of it,” he wrote. “It just takes some time.”

These haven’t been the only campaign finance questions in the sheriff’s race.

In August, the Public Disclosure Commission determined Fortney “may have violated” state law for failing to disclose in-kind contributions and expenditures in a timely manner. In-kind contributions refer to campaign help that isn’t money. They could be goods or services, like campaign office space or food for an event.

The case detailed five incidents between January and July in which Fortney submitted late reports disclosing contributions and expenditures. Fortney’s campaign amended the reports, at the commission’s behest. The commission decided not to consider the issues as a violation. At the time, Fortney had not previously been given a warning or been found in violation of campaign finance laws.

Since Fortney did not participate in August’s primary election, the commission believed the “impact on the public was minimal because they were not deprived of information during a time-sensitive period for the campaign.” The commission gave Fortney a written warning.

The sheriff has one open campaign finance case against him. Didy Kane, the complainant, is a lieutenant with the sheriff’s office. She alleged Fortney misused county property for campaign purposes.

In August, using his county computer and acting as sheriff, Fortney emailed the the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, to inquire about the accreditation process for the sheriff’s office. Fortney then posted about it on the Facebook page he uses for campaigning. He wrote in the post he was “setting the record straight” after Johnson brought up the office’s accreditation status.

Fortney denied any wrongdoing.

“Accreditation is my responsibility as the Sheriff and I talk often with WASPC as the Sheriff. I don’t see the issue,” he wrote. “This is as much an issue for the community to know since my opponent has brought it up so much as it is a campaign issue.”

Johnson has faced one campaign finance complaint. She failed to submit her personal financial affairs statement to the commission within the first two weeks of her candidacy. She announced her campaign in October 2022 and the complaint was filed in January of this year.

Five days after the complaint was filed, Johnson filed the statement and acknowledged the error. The commission gave her a written warning.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623; jenelle.baumbach@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jenelleclar.
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