Financial disclosures out this week show Troy Kelley has so far raised and spent more than his rivals running for state auditor, including an infusion of $78,000 in personal cash.
Some of the money is paying for a campaign commercial on cable television that touts some favorable words from the current state auditor.
“Retiring State Auditor Brian Sonntag says, ‘He’s the independent voice we need.’” the ad says.
What some viewers might miss is a date in small print in the corner of the picture of Kelley and Sonntag. It says “10/11/10.”
The date is an acknowledgement that the praise was offered when Kelley was running for re-election to his House seat, before his attempt to succeed Sonntag.
Sonntag, the five-term auditor and a maverick Democrat, is not endorsing any of the candidates – not Democrats Kelley, Mark Miloscia or Craig Pridemore, and not Republican James Watkins.
Kelley campaign staff cleared the content of the ad in advance with Sonntag, who asked that it include a date.
Kelley’s official statement in the voters’ pamphlet quotes a more extended version of Sonntag’s 2010 comments, but doesn’t include a date. That, too, was run by Sonntag first, and he didn’t object.
Even so, two of Kelley’s opponents are crying foul about the use of the quote.
“People are being left with the impression that Brian Sonntag has endorsed Troy (Kelley),” said Watkins, a consultant from Redmond. In a Facebook post, Watkins called it “outside the bounds of good ethics.”
“We’ve all been trying to get Brian Sonntag’s endorsement,” said Miloscia, a state representative from Federal Way. “Brian’s a very nice guy, and over 10 years I’ve got a zillion quotes that Brian has used about me, but it’s inappropriate to use for this race.”
Kelley said he has never claimed Sonntag’s endorsement and his use of the quote is as fair as Watkins’ frequent use of Sonntag’s comment that Watkins is “particularly qualified based on his background and experience to advance the auditor’s office and be an independent advocate for taxpayers.” Watkins quotes the statement in the voters’ pamphlet.
Sonntag made the comment in May to the conservative Northwest Daily Marker blog, and it was described by some Watkins supporters online – though not by Watkins himself – as an endorsement.
“I think we’ve been 100 percent above-board here,” Kelley said.
“Brian encouraged me to run,” said Kelley, who seemed taken aback by the objections. “I’m in this race because of Brian, so that’s why I’m really shocked here.”
So what does Sonntag say?
“I saw the quote, and I said, ‘I can’t back away from that because I did say that,’” Sonntag said. “But I didn’t say it for this election.”
Does the ad misrepresent him? “It’s really not for me to judge. I’m not running.” And the voters’ pamphlet statement? “That could be viewed as a bit misleading,” Sonntag said, but he figures, “all’s fair in love, war and politics.”
The ad doesn’t appear to run afoul of elections law. To be illegal, an implied endorsement would have to defame Sonntag, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Kelley’s ad and pamphlet statement both also feature a quote from a 2010 endorsement by The News Tribune’s editorial board. The ad, but not the pamphlet, includes a date. The editorial board has endorsed Miloscia and Watkins for auditor in the Aug. 7 primary.
Pridemore, a state senator from Vancouver, said the whole matter is none of his business. He has a radio ad on the air touting endorsements from unions, business leaders, Planned Parenthood and the state Democratic Party.jordan.schrader@ thenewstribune.com 360-786-1826 blog.thenewstribune.com/politics @Jordan_Schrader