Politics & Government

Gig Harbor lawmaker fined again for mixing campaign work and state resources

Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor.
Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor. Washington State Legislative Support Services file

Washington's Legislative Ethics Board on Friday ordered Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, to pay $1,500 for mixing campaign activities and state resources during a series of town-hall meetings earlier this year.

Young also was fined another $500 because the violation was Young's second in less than a year. In October 2017, he was penalized $1,000 for campaigning on state time and using his state-employed legislative assistant to help his election effort.

In the decision announced Monday, the ethics board scrutinized four town halls held by Young in his 26th Legislative District and ruled he crossed the firewall between elections and state business.

The town halls were arranged with the help of state staff and advertised by his communications officer at the Legislature, according to the board. But during at least some of the meetings, the board said campaign staff were directly involved, and he offered both campaign and official state information to constituents, including campaign fliers and contact cards.

"Legislative resources were used in support of the town hall," the opinion released Monday says.

Young disagreed with the findings in an interview with The News Tribune and The Olympian, saying there was no campaign staff involved and only his mother helped out.

He said his mom accidentally broke rules by handing out campaign fliers, and he said he handed out campaign contact information for constituents who wanted to discuss elections outside of the town hall events.

Young said his mother was helping out with the town halls since he is currently barred from having legislative staff due to what House Counsel Alison Hellberg described in a 2016 letter as a "pattern of intimidating and hostile behavior toward staff." Young denies that conclusion.

Young also said the board didn't take into account evidence, such as videos of the events, where he said he made it clear the town halls were for legislative business only.

"Everything was done by the book," Young said of the town halls.

The ethics opinion says Young also created a personal logo with private resources that he stamped on materials. The logo shows an image of the Capitol building surrounded by "Washington State Legislature" and a banner that reads "Office of Jesse Young."

While that didn't appear to run aground of prohibitions against using the state seal while campaigning, the ethics decision says the board was "troubled by Rep. Young's use of personal branding through the creation of a logo produced with private resources."

Rep. Laurie Dolan, an Olympia Democrat who serves on the ethics board, said she couldn't comment directly on Young's case. Dolan did offer some guidelines on the use of logos and said that it is easy to blur the lines between campaign and state work.

"To use a self-made logo and call it state work and then be able to use the same logo in a campaign doesn’t keep the clarity that needs to be drawn between campaign and state government work," she said in an interview with The News Tribune and The Olympian on Friday. "That would be true for any one of us."

Young said since he used his own money to pay for his personal-brand logo, they were not legislative nor campaign materials.

"The board rejects this argument," the ethics decision says.

The complaint was initially lodged by Naomi Evans, a Bremerton school board member and Republican who is challenging Young in the 2018 primary. Young said the complaint was politically motivated and that Evans tried to draw him into an unethical campaign debate at a town hall.

Evans said Friday she was there as a constituent and elected official and only wanted to correct a statement Young made about education spending, not engage in a debate. Evans also said she saw the campaign information at the events and felt she should report them as violations.

"It was never about grandstanding or any of that," she said. "I'm a fairly non-confrontational person. I just want people to know the truth — that he's acting unethically and it's wrong."

Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826, @walkerorenstein

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