Elections

Smell Test: Did county executive candidate misuse campaign funds, ‘outrageously’ insult colleague’s spouse?

Screen shot from an ad from Pierce County executive candidate Bruce Dammeier alleging opponent Dan Roach illegally raised money.
Screen shot from an ad from Pierce County executive candidate Bruce Dammeier alleging opponent Dan Roach illegally raised money. Courtesy

Puyallup Republican Sen. Bruce Dammeier is taking the offensive against Dan Roach, his GOP opponent in the race for Pierce County executive.

Dammeier, an executive of a family-owned printing company, is mailing out thousands of fliers and airing television commercials claiming Roach, a Pierce County councilman and former legislator, illegally took campaign funds to use for personal expenses.

One flier also accuses Roach of insulting the spouse of a fellow lawmaker and violating ethics law while he was in the Legislature.

In a video responding to the campaign, Roach alleges Dammeier is resorting to personal attacks to defeat him rather than proposing policies and suggesting changes in the way the county is run. The two also are running against fellow Republican Larry Faulk, a former state senator, and Democrat Rick Talbert. A primary election Aug. 2 will determine which two candidates go to the November ballot.

The claim: Roach spent some $21,000 from his 2006 legislative campaign fund to replace earnings as co-owner of Roach Gymnastics while he was running for the state House. The Public Disclosure Commission ordered Roach to pay back the funds to his campaign fund because the expenditure of such funds was illegal. Dammeier alleges the fund expenditure speaks to his opponent’s flawed character.

The facts: The Public Disclosure Commission dismissed the charge against Roach but ordered him to reimburse his campaign fund the money he paid to reimburse himself for lost earnings.

Roach said the error occurred because of a misunderstanding of commission rules. State law allows legislators to use campaign funds to make up for lost wages if those losses are property documented. Roach submitted copies of several checks that were made out to him by Roach Gymnastics the previous year. The commission said those checks were for profits from the business, not for wages, so he wasn’t entitled to use campaign funds to replace them.

Conclusion: Mostly true. Dammeier is right that the PDC ordered Roach to reimburse his campaign. But Roach’s claim he could have legally used campaign funds if he had documented his losses differently also is plausible.

Roach said he was teaching classes, doing bookkeeping and more for the gym, and considered the money to be wages. Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the PDC, said campaign funds can be used to pay back wages to business owners if they can show they’re paying themselves a wage as an employee. Anderson said Roach’s paperwork at the time didn’t cut it for reimbursement.

The claim: Dammeier’s fliers say Roach was “reprimanded by his colleagues for outrageously insulting the spouse of a fellow lawmaker.”

The facts: In April 2007, Roach was at the center of a heated floor debate on an insurance-related bill pushed by trial lawyers. Roach opposed the bill and voiced his frustration that it would pass the House. He then went after prominent trial lawyer Keith Kessler, the husband of then-Democratic House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, for his support of the legislation.

 

“Look out! The train is coming through! The Keith Kessler train is coming through and you better get out of the way,” Roach said at one point before making a loud train noise and pumping his fist.

John Lovick, the speaker pro tempore at the time, stopped Roach multiple times during the debate for breaking House rules of decorum and impugning the motives of other lawmakers.

Lynn Kessler sternly yelled at Roach during a break in the action for “insulting” her husband. Roach offered an apology that was “angrily rejected,” The Associated Press reported.

Roach said he was only fighting for taxpayers while arguing against the bill he opposed. He said Keith Kessler “was very much a part of the debate.”

Conclusion: True. Roach was reprimanded for what at least one lawmaker, Kessler, deemed an insult to her husband. He was also gaveled down by Lovick, who called Roach’s speech, and the aftermath, the worst breach of decorum he’d seen in the Legislature, according to the AP.

Dammeier’s flier doesn’t explain that Keith Kessler was involved with a bill being debated, however.

The claim: Dammeier’s ads say Roach violated ethics law by soliciting money during a legislative session and failing to properly disclose his campaign spending.

The facts: The PDC investigated Roach in 2010 after he made an appearance at a legislative campaign event for Cathy Dahlquist while the Legislature was in session.

Roach spoke at Dahlquist’s campaign kick-off and asked people to give money to her campaign. Lawmakers can’t raise money for other candidates during a period of time known as the “session freeze” that happens every year.

Roach said he wasn’t aware he couldn’t raise money for other candidates during the freeze, according to the PDC. Roach was fined $100 at the time.

“Nobody carries a manual around on their arm wherever they go, and that was just a mistake,” Roach said.

He has also received complaints about late reporting of campaign information in his 2000, 2006 and 2008 campaigns, something Dammeier called “a pattern of mistakes.” One complaint was dismissed, and two others resulted in brief hearings that are held for relatively minor allegations, according to Anderson.

One complaint in 2000, when Roach was running for state House, said Roach’s campaign sent in contributor information for nine bank deposits between five and 49 days late.

In one PDC report for complaints in 2000, Roach said campaign volunteers who helped report didn’t understand the due dates required by the Disclosure Commission.

Roach said mistakes are inevitable over 15 years of holding elected office.

Conclusion: True. Roach was fined for violating campaign disclosure law for asking people to donate to another candidate during the freeze. He has also been fined by the PDC for late reporting of campaign information.

The incidents all appear to be relatively minor, according to the PDC.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663

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