Politics & Government

Ethics board says Gig Harbor lawmaker misused state resources on campaigning

State Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, talks on the floor of the House of Representatives in February 2014. Young was hit with a fine from the Legislative Ethics Board on Friday.
State Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, talks on the floor of the House of Representatives in February 2014. Young was hit with a fine from the Legislative Ethics Board on Friday. Courtesy - Washington State Legislative Support Services

Washington’s Legislative Ethics Board ruled Friday that state Rep. Jesse Young, a Republican from Gig Harbor, broke ethics laws by campaigning on state time and using state resources.

Young has been fined $1,000 and faces another $500 penalty if he commits another ethics violation before the 2022 election.

The board said Young often traded text messages and emails with his state-employed legislative assistant in 2016 about campaign issues while she was working, despite Young knowing such behavior is against the law. The assistant, who the board identified as a woman, was not named.

In an interview Friday, Young called the violations small and “technical” in nature. As evidence he cited larger board penalties. In one recent case Rep. Melanie Stambaugh, R-Puyallup, paid a $5,000 fine for violations related to posting videos and photos produced by legislative staff to her Facebook page.

Still, the $1,000 fine was the biggest ever imposed by the ethics board on a case that wasn’t contested in a public hearing, according to the board’s records. At hearings, the board can incur legal costs which drive up fines. Stambaugh's case went to a hearing.

Young said he did his best to police the line between campaign and legislative work. He vowed not to have a legislative assistant work on his campaigns in the future to be sure he is not mixing state work and campaigns.

“What I’ve learned from this is it would be literally impossible not to violate one of these,” Young said.

The ethics board ruling says records provided by Young and his assistant showed 25 “communications” where “substantive campaign actions were discussed or undertaken” while Young’s assistant was working in the lawmaker’s district office.

In one example provided by the board, Young contacted his assistant multiple times while she was at work to ask her to pick up a campaign-donation check.

In another, Young texted the woman at work about fundraising: “Hey, got done with the [lobbyist’s] call. It was a nice 7,500 conversation. That puts me over 60 now.”

She often contacted Young about campaign issues, too, the ethics ruling says.

Young said he trades hundreds of emails and messages with people who work on his campaigns, which are time-consuming and stressful. That the board only found 25 questionable communications is a testament to his efforts to not campaign on state time, he said.

Young also contended some of the communication was sent to his assistant while she was working, but he did not intend for her to respond or act on it until she was off the clock.

The board’s report also notes the assistant sent fundraising emails on personal time for Young’s campaign and that those emails contained her contact information with the state. She also transferred contacts, Power Point presentations and more from a legislative email account to a campaign account, according to the report.

It is not an ethics violation for a legislative assistant to campaign on personal time. A legislative assistant also can schedule campaign events for lawmakers.

But the board says Young’s aide went beyond that by “inquiring about issues to be discussed at campaign events and offering assistance at them, information important to her position as a campaign volunteer.”

The ruling states the pair did not honor “the line between legislative and campaign work, with both persons acting in violation” of ethics law.

Young signed the board’s decision and wrote he agreed with the “entry of findings of fact and conclusions of law.”

He told The News Tribune and The Olympian he was fully transparent with the ethics board and turned over records and emails when asked.

Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826, @walkerorenstein