PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County Commissioner David Sullivan admits he made a mistake when he moved surplus campaign funds to Homes Now, the organization behind Proposition 1, which would create the Jefferson County Home Opportunity Fund and is on the November ballot.
A complaint about Sullivan’s misuse of campaign finances was reported to the state attorney general’s office and the state Public Disclosure Commission last week by Glen Morgan, executive director of the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights and creator of We the Governed, a blog focusing on state and local government.
“I’ve been filing quite a few public disclosure complaints,” Morgan said. “This is one of hundreds I’ve filed recently. I heard about it from someone, I can’t remember who now, but it was on my list. It’s pretty straightforward. I’m mostly interested in reforming the statute to make it more easy to follow.”
Morgan’s complaints alleged that Sullivan violated two campaign finance laws when he moved surplus campaign funds to the Homes Now campaign.
“There are only a few things candidates can do with those surplus funds under state campaign finance laws,” said Kim Bradford, communication and outreach director for the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC).
Surplus campaign funds can be refunded to the contributors or used to reimburse a candidate for lost wages, Bradford said.
“Obviously they have to be able to document that,” Bradford said.
Surplus funds also can be transferred to a political party or caucus, donated to a charity or sent to the state treasurer or state general fund.
Winning candidates can use surplus funds to pay for non-reimbursable public officer-related expenses, or funds could be used in a future campaign.
“That is only allowed if they run for the same office,” Bradford said. “If it’s for a different office, you’d have to ask the contributors for their permission to roll over those funds.”
Morgan’s complaint says Sullivan’s first violation was in December when Sullivan wrote a check to himself for $800.90 from surplus campaign funds.
“It is possible that Sullivan intended to treat these funds as ‘surplus’ in which case he should have disposed of these campaign funds in one of the many legal options,” said Morgan in his complaint filed with the PDC.
The second was in August when Sullivan’s campaign wrote a check for $800.60 for the Homes Now campaign, Morgan said.
Morgan’s complaint also said 30 cents remained unaccounted for in this transfer.
The PDC received Morgan’s complaint Sept. 18 and sent a notice to Sullivan on Tuesday, Bradford said.
Sullivan responded to the PDC’s notice Wednesday and in his response admitted he had made a mistake.
“My response is to say that this was a mistake and completely my responsibility,” Sullivan said Wednesday. “I didn’t go back and re-read the RCW [Revised Code of Washington] and thought it was something I could do.”
Sullivan said he did not have any campaign staff working for him at the time, so no one else was involved in the transfers.
Sullivan said Homes Now has agreed to return the $800.60 and that he is awaiting instructions from the PDC on how to rectify the situation.
“I just feel embarrassed and hope this doesn’t affect the campaign,” Sullivan said. “It’s a very important campaign to me and could do great things for the county. I just made a mistake.”
Because Morgan filed complaints with both the PDC and attorney general’s office, the next step will be a response from the attorney general’s office.
Morgan filed a citizen’s action letter with the attorney general’s office Sept. 20. The office has 45 days to respond, according to attorney general’s office staff.
“We won’t start active assessment of the mirror complaint until after the attorney general makes its decision,” Bradford said.
Depending on what the attorney general’s office decides, the PDC will then assess the complaint and work with Sullivan to rectify the situation, Bradford said.
Jefferson County Editor/