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Eye On Olympia

Ethics board: Hinkle wrong to use state letter to tout school bond, but doesn’t merit fine…

The state Legislative Ethics Board has issued “a letter of instruction” to Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, after Hinkle’s legislative staffer sent a newspaper a letter of his support — on state letterhead — for a local school ballot measure.

“Apparently unbeknownst to the Representative, the (aide) placed the approved text on state letterhead and sent it directly to the newspaper,” the board said. Hinkle notified the board of the error.

Under state law, no elected official or public employee may use state facilities or resources to promote or oppose a ballot measure. (Or a candidate). That includes things like stationery, postage, equipment, state workers, office space, vehicles, mailing lists, etc. The reason, of course, is that taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for political activity they might disagree with.

A majority of ethics board members said Hinkle’s violation didn’t justify a fine. But in a rare dissent, two members — Rep. Jamie Pedersen and Spokane’s Donna L. McKereghan — wanted a stronger penalty. True, they said, the cost to taxpayers of the violation was negligible.

But Hinkle is a “seasoned legislator” who knows the rules and nonetheless instructed the inexperienced aide “to compose a letter that should not have been composed on state time or using state equipment,” they said in a dissent accompanying the board decision.

Hinkle put his brand new assistant in peril of also being found in violation of the Ethics Act, they noted. Hinkle, they said, should have been formally reprimanded.

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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