Washington’s state ethics board approved a $15,000 fine against Lt. Gov. Brad Owen on Friday for violating state ethics laws over a number of years by using state resources to support his nonprofit Strategies for Youth.
The Executive Ethics Board agreed to suspend $5,000 of the fine if Owen refrains from further ethical lapses for two years. Owen, a Shelton Democrat who was first elected lieutenant governor in 1996, did not attend the hearing at which the board voted 5-0 to adopt its binding order that will require him to make monthly payments of $417.67 for two full years.
Owen agreed to its terms and conclusions concerning the involvement of the nonprofit charity that he founded with his wife in 1989 to use positive messages and music to discourage youths from using drugs. The nonprofit’s activities included taking music shows to school gyms for a fee.
The board’s order said it took into account that Owen is a “high-ranking elected official and these types of violations significantly reduce the public respect and confidence in state government employees. A mitigating factor is that the alleged violations pertain to SFY (Strategies for Youth) presentations, which conveyed positive messages to school age children.”
The organization, which has been inactive since early 2012, was led by Owen and his wife, Linda. The organization paid Linda Owen and let the couple use a red Dodge pickup truck for their personal use.
Owen had staffers in his state office assist the nonprofit in scheduling events and also used state office space for its board meetings. He hired the nonprofit’s staff musician, Brett Pendleton, as an administrative assistant in his state office at a salary of $3,007 a month after revenues for the nonprofit began to dwindle after 2005, the order says.
In signing the order, Owen admitted the facts were likely to show he used state resources for personal gain and that he had an improper financial stake in the success of the youth group in his capacity as a state official.
Owen put out a statement that said he was “very proud of the work that Linda and I did for the children of Washington state over 22 years through the partnership between my office and the non-profit organization Strategies for Youth.”
“This settlement is agreed to merely to put an end to a frustrating process that does not allow me or any elected official the right to be heard by a jury of our peers as is guaranteed any other citizen,” he added. “Therefore, any further effort would just take away from the important work of my office. It is imperative that we just move on. This settlement in no way diminishes my commitment or that of my office to the children of Washington state. That important work will continue with vigor.”
Republican Bill Finkbeiner had made Owen’s ethics an issue during their 2012 campaign for lieutenant governor.
In 1998, Owen paid $7,000 to cover the Executive Ethics Board’s investigative costs over complaints he used his office improperly to oppose Initiative 685, which sought to decriminalize marijuana but was rejected by voters.