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;; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623;; Twitter: @jenelleclar.
Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Kim Skarda points at her home on a map on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Concrete, Washington. A community called Sauk River Estates has a very steep slope above it. There is a DNR-approved timber sale that boarders the estate properties, yet they were not consulted about the sale before approval. The community has already appealed the sale and has hired their own geologist to conduct a slope stability report at the site. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Beneath steep slope, Concrete neighbors fear landslides from logging above

Nielsen Brothers plans to cut 54 acres of timber directly behind the community of 83 homes. Locals said they were never consulted.

Law enforcement respond to a person hit by a train near the Port of Everett Mount Baker Terminal on Thursday, June 27, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2 killed in waterfront train crashes were near Mukilteo ‘quiet zone’

In June, two people were hit by trains on separate days near Mukilteo Boulevard. “These situations are incredibly tragic,” Everett’s mayor said.

Rob Plotnikoff takes a measurement as a part of the county's State of Our Waters survey at Tambark Creek in Bothell, Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County stream team bushwhacks a path to healthier waterways

This summer, the crew of three will survey 40 sites for the State of Our Waters program. It’s science in locals’ backyards.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
4th suspect arrested after Mountlake Terrace home robbery

Police arrested Taievion Rogers, 19, on Tuesday. Prosecutors charged his three alleged accomplices in April.

A 10 acre parcel off of Highway 99, between 240th and 242nd Street Southwest that the city of Edmonds is currently in the process of acquiring on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds ditches $37M Landmark public park project off Highway 99

The previous mayor envisioned parks and more in south Edmonds, in a historically neglected area. The new administration is battling budget woes.

Edmonds school official sworn in as Mount Vernon supe

Victor Vergara took his oath of office last week. He was assistant superintendent of equity and student success in Edmonds.

Miners Complex tops 500 acres in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Nine lightning-caused fires force trail closures and warnings 21 miles east of Darrington. No homes are threatened.

FILE — President Joe Biden arrives for a Medal of Honor ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, July 3, 2024. Biden abandoned his campaign for a second term under intense pressure from fellow Democrats on Sunday, July 21, upending the race for the White House in a dramatic last-minute bid to find a new candidate who can stop former President Donald Trump from returning to the White House. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
Biden drops out of race, endorses vice president Kamala Harris

The president announced the decision on social media Sunday.

Granite Falls ‘10-foot alligator’ is actually a tegu named ‘Tazz’

Anybody who spots the docile lizard, last seen near Granite Falls, is asked to notify 911, so Tazz can be reunited with owner.

Photos by Olivia Vanni / The Herald
Gabby Bullock sits on her bed in a room she shares with another housemate on June 14 in Everett.
‘We don’t have openings’: SnoCo recovery houses struggle with demand

Advocates say the homes are critical for addiction recovery. But home prices make starting a sober living house difficult.

Melinda Grenier serves patrons at her coffee truck called Hay Girl Coffee during the third annual Arlington Pride event in Arlington, Washington on Sunday, June 2, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Food safety team defends its work: it’s a ‘high pressure, thankless’ job

Management tried to set the record straight about long permit delays in Snohomish County.

Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. (Olivia Vanni/The Herald)
Global tech outage leaves a mark on Snohomish County

The CrowdStrike software update hit some systems at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett and briefly disrupted 911 operations.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.