Opinion

The trouble with Dow Constantine | Angie Vogt

On Monday, Sept. 28, I filed a complaint with the state Public Disclosure Commission against the campaign of Dow Constantine, the progressive candidate running for King County Executive.

My allegations stem from a string of improprieties as well as an overall frustration with how brazen the liberal political machine in Seattle has become.

Of course, the established local media have enabled this kind of corruption by ignoring obvious evidence of corruption and cronyism. I saw it in the governor's race, and it is now rearing its ugly head in the race for King County Executive with the Dow Constantine campaign.

With local media under the strain of dwindling finances, an environment of corruption can easily take hold and go unreported, allowing emboldened political operatives to act with impunity. At least it seems to be the case in Seattle, where the incestuous relationship between political consultants, politicians and special interest groups has gone unchallenged for so long, perhaps the local media just don't recognize suspicious connections anymore.

Leafing through campaign finance documents available to the public from the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), Seattle Times reporter Keith Ervin wrote in an Aug. 5 story, "Labor unions back county exec candidate Dow Constantine," that an independent "non-partisan" political action committee (PAC) calling itself "Citizens to Uphold the Constitution" had an interesting link to the Dow Constantine campaign: They share the same treasurer, Jason Bennett. Surprisingly, that was the end of Ervin's interest in the matter.

According to their expenditures report filed to the PDC, Citizens to Uphold the Constitution paid $11,300.25 to Washington, D.C.-based vendor "The Clinton Group" to perform robocalls attacking candidate Susan Hutchison. The sponsor of the group who purchased the vendor services is named as Jason Bennett, who, according to the Seattle Times article, is also Dow Constantine's treasurer.

The situation appears to be a violation of RCW 42.17.020 and WAC 390-05-210. The RCW, in section 28, defines independent expenditure, which forbids collaboration between a candidate (the candidate's campaign staff or any agent of that campaign) and a group or person purchasing advertising for that candidate or against the candidate's opponent. This is a classic case of soft money mixing with hard money, the subject of campaign finance reforms that were enacted in 2002.

The link between Constantine's treasurer, Jason Bennett, and this political action committee looks sordid enough, but there's even more. Jason Bennett is a veteran political consultant and Olympia insider who has helped win Democratic majorities in the state Legislature and worked for Sen. Maria Cantwell's staff before opening his own political consulting firm, Argo Strategies, in Seattle. He is a sophisticated player whose firm advertises its ability to get progressive Democrats elected. Good for him. Being that he is integral to the political scene, there should be no question that he knows the laws.

In fact, his Web site claims: "Argo Strategies is a political consulting firm specializing in treasury and compliance work...let us navigate the campaign waters, you go and win!"

So, just to review: It is illegal for a candidate's campaign to coordinate with independent groups who finance attack ads against opponents or who fund campaign activities in support of said candidate. Jason Bennett, the treasurer for Dow Constantine, owns his own political consulting firm and is listed as the sponsor for the group that purchased attack robocalls against Susan Hutchison (an opponent of Dow Constantine).

Wait, there's more. Another Seattle consulting firm, called Moxie Media Inc., was hired to produce attack ads against Ross Hunter (Dow Constantine's opponent in the primary) by a group calling itself "Working Families Coalition." This "independent" group, financed by several state and local unions, paid $14,565 to Moxie Media to send out direct mailings attacking Hunter.

Moxie Media is well known for its campaign mailings supporting liberal groups such as Planned Parenthood, the Service Employees International Union and Emily's List. Not only is a campaign staff person (who is paid with hard money) working with Moxie Media delivering soft money campaign advertising, but Moxie Media shares the same mailing address and suite number as the consulting firm working for Dow Constantine's campaign, called Northwest Passage.

Confused? All you need to know is that it is illegal for a candidate to collaborate with a group who spends money to support that candidate or to attack the candidate's opponents. It appears that Dow Constantine's treasurer is working as a staffer and as an operative for political action committees.

Stayed tuned for more on this labyrinth of shady connections.

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