A recent Seattle Times story highlighted that state Attorney General Rob McKenna has accepted $184,000 in free travel – including trips to Washington, D.C., and overseas to Israel and Japan – paid for by private sources since he took office in 2005.
In the wake of that story, Democrats are criticizing McKenna for that travel and for another kind of trip – a taxpayer-funded stay at Disneyland that included a fundraiser. A new radio ad from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee seizes on the July trip, saying “Disneyland: For Rob McKenna it’s a place where everything comes true.’’ A cartoon-character voice says, “That’s right, Rob McKenna loves Disneyland.”
Readers can listen to the ad, which also restates other, at least partly true claims raised earlier in the campaign, at ow.ly/eYNv5.
The Attorney General’s Office confirms the trip and that McKenna did a fundraiser while attending the four-day Conference of Western Attorneys General meeting at the Grand Californian Hotel at Disneyland on July 22-26. His wife, Marilyn, and children went along, but taxpayers paid costs only for Attorney General’s Office staffers, which totaled about $4,484.
Records on file with the state Public Disclosure Commission show McKenna’s gubernatorial campaign spent $568 on catering on July 25, the night of the closing dinner for the conference.
State law does not forbid such a thing, according to Melanie de Leon, executive director of the Washington state Executive Ethics Board.
De Leon said elected state officials may campaign at any time as long as they do not use state facilities. And to the extent an elected official does the work that taxpayers sent him or her to do on the trip, the official’s free time is free.
De Leon’s office, technically a part of the Attorney General’s Office, would not handle a complaint about McKenna if one were filed. She is required to refer complaints about McKenna to the state Auditor’s Office.
WHAT THE CANDIDATES SAY
Inslee’s campaign says the trip is wrong. “It looks bad because it is bad, even if it’s legal,” Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said.
McKenna’s campaign for governor declined to comment earlier this week on the trip or the fundraiser. Spokesman Charles McCray referred the matter to the Attorney General’s Office.
A spokesman there, Dan Sytman, said in a statement, “Conferences such as CWAG encourage attorneys general to bring their families and they offer family excursions to allow elected officials, who are often away from their families due to work, to spend time with their families when they are not in meetings.”
Sytman said McKenna would have participated in the conference no matter the location, and the state would have paid for his travel as it has for previous attorneys general and other statewide elected officials. McKenna paid for all additional costs incurred by his family out of his own pocket, Sytman said.
“Attorney General McKenna actively participated in the conference on all three days – and his calendar reflects that the reason he was in Anaheim was to participate in the conference,” Sytman’s statement said. “During his free time, he may ethically participate in other personal events.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
What the ad says about the trips is mostly true. McKenna did report receiving $184,000 in free travel. He went on a taxpayer-funded trip to Disneyland. But his schedule indicates that he was busy with attorney general issues each day, and it is not true that he went there simply because he “loves” Disneyland.
It also is true that McKenna was involved in a fundraising activity while there. But it is not illegal under state ethics laws to have a fundraiser once an elected state official’s state business is completed.