OLYMPIA – State ethics regulators will investigate whether Gov. Chris Gregoire violated campaign laws by auctioning a dinner at the state-owned governor’s mansion to benefit a fellow Democrat’s congressional campaign, officials said Friday.
Gregoire denied any wrongdoing, and said expenses for private use of the historic residence are routinely paid through a special account derived from unspent campaign dollars.
“There wouldn’t be guidelines around public expenditures versus private expenditures if that sort of thing wasn’t allowed,” said Holly Armstrong, Gregoire’s spokeswoman.
The investigation was prompted by a complaint from Bellevue attorney Richard Pope, who said Gregoire’s auction appeared to violate a ban on using public property to benefit political campaigns. Pope, a Republican who twice ran against Gregoire when she was state attorney general, is now campaigning for a seat on the King County District Court bench.
The auction in question occurred at a Thursday evening campaign event in Redmond for Democrat Darcy Burner, a former Microsoft manager challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert in this fall’s election.
Pope’s complaint cited a blogger’s report from the event that pegged the winning dinner bid at nearly $4,000. Armstrong and Burner’s campaign were unsure of the final price or the winning bidder.
“We’re obviously really grateful for the governor’s support. But as for the complaint, we haven’t seen it, so I wouldn’t want to comment on it,” Burner campaign spokeswoman Jamie Smith said Friday.
Armstrong said Gregoire’s office believes the mansion may be used for private purposes such as the auctioned dinner because of its dual function as a public building and the governor’s residence.
“This is not new,” Armstrong said. “The mansion keeps very meticulous records on what’s spent.”
The state Executive Ethics Board, which will review Pope’s complaint, and state Attorney General Rob McKenna said the law governing use of the mansion for private political purposes was not immediately clear.
Pope said the rules are clear to him: “This is at the governor’s mansion, and even if Gregoire reimbursed the state, it wouldn’t matter because it’s a political use of a government facility.”