The ads show a Republican senator, Steve Litzow of Mercer Island, smiling alongside his Democratic seatmates and Gov. Jay Inslee.
Not included: The fact those Democrats endorsed Litzow’s opponent, Lisa Wellman — an omission that Democrats say attempts to mislead voters in a tight race that could decide control of the state Senate.
Inslee and Litzow’s Democratic seatmates — state Reps. Tana Senn and Judy Clibborn — say Litzow’s use of their photos in his ads gives the false impression they endorse him.
Wellman’s campaign says the implied endorsement violates state law. Litzow has brushed off the complaints.
The dispute highlights what’s at stake in the race in the 41st Legislative District, a left-leaning swing district that includes Mercer Island, Newcastle, Issaquah, Sammamish and parts of Bellevue and Renton.
Democrats have made Litzow’s seat one of their primary targets as they seek to regain the Senate, which has been controlled by a Republican-led majority since 2013. Democrats only need two more seats to win the chamber, and hope unseating Litzow will get them halfway there.
Wellman, the managing director at a software company, defeated Litzow by 1.5 percentage points in the August primary.
“I think he is reading the tea leaves. He is just not getting traction, and he’s trying everything he can,” said Senn, who sent out a statement with Clibborn and Inslee earlier this week saying Litzow used their photos without permission.
State law prohibits candidates from falsely stating or implying that someone endorsed them in political ads, even indirectly.
A campaign consultant for Wellman has filed a complaint over the matter with the state Public Disclosure Commission. The commission is still reviewing the complaint see if it warrants investigation.
Litzow said Friday his campaign is “confident we are in compliance” with state law.
“I am running a campaign that demonstrates my record of accomplishments and willingness to work across the aisle to get results,” he said in a statement, adding that he has frequently voted with Senn and Clibborn during his time in the Legislature.
The race between Litzow and Wellman is shaping up to be one of the three most expensive legislative matchups this year. The candidates and outside groups have spent about $1 million on the contest so far.
Litzow has raised more than any other legislative candidate — about $618,000 — giving him a significant fundraising advantage over Wellman, who has raised only $278,000.
The other two races seen as pivotal to controlling the Senate also have generated about $1 million in spending.
Those would be the matchup between state Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Mullet; and the battle between Republican Rep. Lynda Wilson and Democrat Tim Probst, who are vying to replace retiring Republican Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver.