Politics & Government

Puyallup lawmaker faces 44 alleged ethics violations for using state videos, photos in campaign

State Rep. Melanie Stambaugh, R-Puyallup, is shown in this file photo from December 2015.
State Rep. Melanie Stambaugh, R-Puyallup, is shown in this file photo from December 2015. lgiles@gateline.com

A state ethics panel is holding its first hearing in two decades to decide whether state Rep. Melanie Stambaugh, R-Puyallup, broke the law by posting taxpayer-funded videos to her campaign Facebook page.

The videos and photos in question were produced by state employees working for the Legislature, making them potentially subject to rules banning the use of state resources in political campaigns, according to an order issued Thursday by the Legislative Ethics Board.

In its order, the ethics board said it found reasonable cause to conclude that Stambaugh violated ethics rules 44 times this year by posting legislative videos and photos to her campaign Facebook page.

In an unusual move, the ethics board will hold a hearing Dec. 13 to review Stambaugh’s case.

Keith Buchholz, counsel for the ethics board, said to his knowledge, the last time a complaint progressed to a full hearing before the ethics board was in the mid-1990s.

Typically in cases like Stambaugh’s, lawmakers stipulate that they violated the law, take down the offending videos and photos and pay a small fine.

This time, Stambaugh declined to sign the stipulated order proposed by the board, and the parties couldn’t reach an agreement.

“I agreed not to sign something that I don’t believe is true,” Stambaugh said Thursday.

She declined to discuss which specific parts of the board’s findings she disagreed with, but said she was glad to have a public hearing because “this warrants greater discussion.”

“This is about publicly available YouTube videos and publicly available photos posted to Facebook,” Stambaugh said.

“The whole decision to produce these videos is to inform my constituents of the work we do in the Legislature. Social media is the means we use to share that information. I look forward to the hearing to be able to find clarity in this matter.”

Stambaugh removed the videos and photos in question from her campaign pages in August.

According to the ethics board, lawmakers can link to legislative videos and other materials from their campaign websites and social media pages, but only if the link directs visitors to the original legislative source website.

Legislative videos that can be viewed on a campaign website or Facebook page without leaving the page aren’t allowed.

The ethics board issued a ruling clarifying that policy in May, but the policy has been in place since 2000.

The maximum fine for each of the violations Stambaugh is accused of is $5,000. If she is found to have committed all of the alleged violations, she faces a maximum penalty of $220,000.

Kenny Pittman, chairman of the Legislative Ethics Board, said it’s unlikely the board would fine Stambaugh that much, even if the board finds she violated the law 44 times.

He declined to say what the board’s earlier offer to Stambaugh contained, but said most lawmakers who agree to settle their case without a hearing pay a fine of about $500.

“The purpose is not to financially punish somebody and go overboard,” he said. “The purpose is to make people aware that a violation has occurred so that it won’t occur in the future.”

The board’s investigation was prompted by a June complaint alleging Stambaugh improperly posted 14 videos to her campaign Facebook page. Staff for the ethics board said state law prevents them from disclosing who filed the complaint.

Stambaugh was first elected to the Legislature in 2014. This fall, she is seeking a second term representing the 25th Legislative District, which includes Puyallup, South Hill, Midland and Fife.

Stambaugh’s Democratic opponent, Jamie Smith, is a teacher and coach at Puyallup High School.


Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1