PORT TOWNSEND — A candidate for East Jefferson County Hospital District No. 2 said Thursday he “inadvertently” violated state law that prohibits use of public office or agency facilities in campaigns.
Advertising supporting Bruce McComas appeared in the Peninsula Daily News and Port Townsend Leader showing doctors and a nurse — wearing Jefferson Healthcare hospital name tags and uniforms — who endorse McComas.
“It never passed my mind that no matter how small and illegible, that it could be a violation,” he said. McComas is the former manager of the Port Townsend Paper Corp.
He was responding to a complaint William Biery filed last Sunday with the state Public Disclosure Commission.
The complaint alleges that McComas’ advertising shows “doctors wearing uniforms supplied by the public hospital, or with official employer supplied name badges … prescribing the candidate to the readers and the public.”
It cites state law that says political advertising that either directly or indirectly implies support or endorsement of any person or organization is illegal.
Biery, former chairman of the Jefferson County Democrats, said Thursday that ignorance of state law is no excuse for violating the rules.
“When I see blatant disregard for state law, it bothers me tremendously,” he said.
“It’s obvious the campaign is not adhering to the guidelines for elections.”
He said that if candidates are unfamiliar with laws, they need to surround themselves with people who are.
Biery also alleged that McComas’ campaign has posted photos on Facebook in violation of the law. An example, he said, is a photo of McComas shaking retiring hospital commissioner Tony DeLeo’s hand in front of what appears to be a van with the Jefferson Healthcare logo.
McComas said that though he apparently violated rules about using public facilities, he doesn’t believe the ads implied that Jefferson Healthcare supports his campaign.
“Clearly, if you look at the ads, there was no insinuation that the hospital was endorsing me,” he said. “Just the doctors themselves.”
He said those featured in the photos wanted to do endorsement ads and they were named in the ads.
The ads say they were paid for by the Committee to Elect Bruce McComas Hospital Commissioner.
“Nothing you can see in those ads implied that Jefferson Healthcare was endorsing me,” McComas said. “I just didn’t think about the uniforms being an issue.”
That complaints comes at the heels of complaints made last month alleging hospital staff have been “approached and pressured at work, during working hours, to endorse, support the campaign of … a specific candidate for Jefferson Healthcare Hospital Commission, Bruce McComas.”
Eva Raczkowski Bennett, who supports McComas’ opponent, Cheri Van Hoover, filed the complaint Aug. 15 with the PDC.
The PDC website states that the complaints are in the “assessment of facts” stage of investigation.
Van Hoover is a certified nurse-midwife, a health policy instructor for Philadelphia University and a small-business owner in Port Hadlock.
Van Hoover and Bennett did not return phone calls Thursday.
“[W]hile I was a patient at the hospital, I have been approached by hospital staff to solicit my support for Mr. McComas,” Bennett wrote in the complaint. “When I did not respond positively to such solicitations, I felt that the quality of the care I received might be threatened.”
Jefferson Healthcare CEO Mike Glenn said in an email “we are aware of the complaint and are working with the PDC to appropriately respond.”
He did not answer phone calls and said in the email he was in budget meetings during the afternoon. He did not respond to a follow-up email asking whether the allegations were true.
McComas said he and the hospital have both responded to the complaints and “I would just assume we let [the PDC] do what they need to do.”
“I don’t want to argue it out in the newspapers,” McComas said. “There’s a couple things where I could file complaints or violations against my opponent, but I don’t want to go there.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].