February 22, 1997 in Nation/World

State Fines Campaign Donor Millionaire Who Gave Illegally To Foreman Also Gave To Nethercutt

Karen Dorn Steele And Jim Camden S Staff writer
 

A state investigation into illegal campaign contributions from an Eastern Washington potato magnate raises questions about similar donations to Rep. George Nethercutt’s 1994 campaign.

Peter Taggares Sr. of Othello agreed this week to pay a record $52,500 fine after a yearlong Public Disclosure Commission investigation.

Taggares admitted illegally funneling cash in 1995 from his employees and companies into gubernatorial candidate Dale Foreman’s campaign.

“These are extremely egregious violations,” said PDC Executive Director Melissa Warheit.

Taggares could not be reached for comment Friday.

In a settlement with the commission, Taggares agreed to pay the fine to head off more litigation by the state attorney general’s office, the commission said Friday.

Seven Taggares employees and spouses who gave money to Foreman at Taggares’ request also donated at his request to Nethercutt in 1994, commission investigators said.

“None of the employees had ever given to a political candidate before Nethercutt, nor had they given to a state candidate prior to the contribution to Foreman,” according to the PDC.

One of the donors was Erlinda Uresti, Taggares’ housekeeper. She gave $1,000 to Foreman’s campaign - more than her monthly salary.

Her husband Angel Uresti, Taggares’ handyman, also gave $1,000 - although he’s not a U.S. citizen, can’t vote and didn’t know what office Foreman was seeking, the PDC said.

Erlinda and Angel Uresti each donated $500 to Nethercutt in 1994 after Taggares asked them to, state investigators said.

Under state and federal election laws, it’s illegal for anyone who exceeds campaign donation limits to funnel additional money through others. It’s also illegal for an employer to reimburse employees for campaign donations.

There is no federal investigation into the donations to Nethercutt. But the Federal Election Commission often begins an inquiry once state authorities uncover donor violations, said FEC spokeswoman Sharon Snyder.

Nethercutt did not return several calls to his Spokane and Washington, D.C., offices Friday. His staff said he could not be reached because he was returning to the Capitol from Spokane.

As part of the settlement, Taggares admitted he funneled $4,000 to Foreman through three of his corporations - exceeding the legal limit by $3,000.

Commission staff learned of the Taggares donations to Nethercutt from an October 1995 Spokesman-Review story that detailed some $12,000 given by Taggares, his family and his employees to Nethercutt’s 1994 campaign.

Taggares personally gave Nethercutt $2,000, the maximum allowable for the 1994 campaign.

His sons Michael and Peter, his grandson Peter III, his daughter-in-law Sandy and his wife Janet all contributed, as did several employees.

They gave on the same dates - on the Sept. 20 primary and on Oct. 26, two weeks before the general election when Nethercutt unseated House Speaker Tom Foley.

“Pete asked me to contribute, and I did,” Taggares’ bookkeeper, Pete Wigen, said in a 1995 interview.

State investigators subpoenaed PJ Taggares Co.’s financial records and asked company employees about their donations.

The investigation took so long, in part, because Taggares “was not completely candid” with commission staff. He described money that he gave his employees for political contributions as loans or bonuses.

Taggares’ fund-raising efforts for Foreman took just 24 hours. On Dec. 7, 1995, Foreman asked him to join his campaign finance committee. The next day, Taggares, his relatives, and three of his subsidiaries gave 15 checks totaling $15,500 to Foreman’s campaign.

Dec. 8 was the last day Foreman could accept contributions before the 1996 legislative session.

Ten days after they contributed $2,000 to Foreman, Erlinda and Angel Uresti received a $2,083 check from PJ Taggares Co.

Taggares initially told commission investigators under oath the check was a “bonus.”

But last May - the day before commission investigators were due in Othello to interview Taggares employees - Taggares said the money was a “loan,” according to the PDC.

Investigators then subpoenaed the company’s financial records to resolve the issue.

The records showed loan repayments of $200 a month were withheld from Angel Uresti’s wages between January and May. But no money changed hands. A repayment wasn’t made until May 14, the day before PDC staff was scheduled to interview Uresti.

Erlinda and Angel Uresti both told investigators they made the contributions “solely because Mr. Taggares had encouraged them to do so,” the PDC said.

The commission also fined Foreman $2,500 for accepting the affiliated corporate checks from Taggares’ companies. Foreman returned most of the money to Taggares last summer.

Foreman, who lost the GOP primary last September, was elected chairman of the state Republican Party in January.

Before Washington citizens placed contribution limits on state campaigns in 1992, Taggares made substantial contributions to candidates and flew politicians around Eastern Washington in his private plane, known as Spud One.

He gave $9,000 to Gov. John Spellman’s 1984 gubernatorial campaign, $44,000 to Gov. Booth Gardner’s 1988 campaign, and $22,000 to Christine Gregoire’s 1992 attorney general campaign.

This week’s plea agreement between Taggares and the commission staff still needs approval from the five-member commission, which meets Tuesday.

In 1992, Taggares ranked 111th on a national list of the 400 largest U.S. farms, with $50 million in revenues from potatoes, beef and grain.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Campaign contributions

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS State investigators say employees of P.J. Taggares and their spouses gave illegal contributions to Republican gubernatorial candidate Dale Foreman in 1995 and gave money to Republican congressional candidate George Nethercutt’s 1994 campaign.

Contribution Contribution Name Occupation to Foreman Date to Nethercutt Date Erlinda Uresti housekeeper $1,000 12-8-95 $500 9-20-94 Angel Uresti foreman $1,000 12-8-95 $500 9-20-94 David Wigen payroll manager $1,000 12-8-95 $500 1-4-95 Susan Hara accountant $1,000 12-8-95 Unavailable Barbara Hatfield administrative asst. $1,000 12-8-95 $500 9-20-94* Robert Hatfield retired $1,000 12-8-95 $500 9-20-94 Tommy Dickey NA $1,000 12-8-95 Unavailable

Taggares family members who contributed $1,000 to Foreman on Dec. 8, 1995 and to $1,000 to Nethercutt on Sept. 20 and Oct. 26, 1994. PJ Taggares, Janet Taggares, Peter Taggares III, Sandy Taggares

*Also contributed $500 to Nethercutt on 10-26-94

Sources: Public Disclosure Commission, Federal Election Commission, staff research. Staff graphic.

This sidebar appeared with the story: CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS State investigators say employees of P.J. Taggares and their spouses gave illegal contributions to Republican gubernatorial candidate Dale Foreman in 1995 and gave money to Republican congressional candidate George Nethercutt’s 1994 campaign.

Contribution Contribution Name Occupation to Foreman Date to Nethercutt Date Erlinda Uresti housekeeper $1,000 12-8-95 $500 9-20-94 Angel Uresti foreman $1,000 12-8-95 $500 9-20-94 David Wigen payroll manager $1,000 12-8-95 $500 1-4-95 Susan Hara accountant $1,000 12-8-95 Unavailable Barbara Hatfield administrative asst. $1,000 12-8-95 $500 9-20-94* Robert Hatfield retired $1,000 12-8-95 $500 9-20-94 Tommy Dickey NA $1,000 12-8-95 Unavailable

Taggares family members who contributed $1,000 to Foreman on Dec. 8, 1995 and to $1,000 to Nethercutt on Sept. 20 and Oct. 26, 1994. PJ Taggares, Janet Taggares, Peter Taggares III, Sandy Taggares

*Also contributed $500 to Nethercutt on 10-26-94

Sources: Public Disclosure Commission, Federal Election Commission, staff research. Staff graphic.

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