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Campaign tactic could cost freshman senator his seat

Lawmaker seeks to keep him from being sworn in

SEATTLE – Some Democrats in Olympia are out to deny a seat to a freshman senator in their own party over concerns about a dirty campaign tactic used in the August primary.

Nick Harper bested incumbent Sen. Jean Berkey, D-Everett, in the primary by 122 votes and then went on to win the general election.

The state attorney general has alleged that liberal consulting group Moxie Media violated campaign finance rules by using money from unions and trial lawyers to create shell groups with misleading names such as “Conservative PAC” to attack Berkey for being too liberal. That case is pending in Thurston County.

Harper has not been accused of wrongdoing.

He said he “absolutely disavows” the tricks used by Moxie Media and thinks his integrity is being unfairly attacked. Holding him accountable for the actions of a third-party group is a “dangerous precedent,” he said.

Puyallup Democrat Jim Kastama will introduce legislation Monday to deny Harper a seat, according to the Seattle Times. He appears to have the support of four other Democrats, who could join with minority Republicans.

It would be the first time since 1941 that the state Senate declined to seat a senator, and it would narrow the Democrats’ 27-22 majority control. The seat could be left vacant.

A state Public Disclosure Commission investigative report shows the tactic had an effect on the August primary.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, did not return a request for comment, but earlier this week she sent a letter to Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, asking for the GOP to help seat Harper.

“There is no question that altering the process of seating Senate members from a procedural act into a political one would set a dangerous precedent for the institution,” Brown wrote.

On Friday, Berkey’s attorney asked a Thurston County Superior Court judge for permission to intervene in the attorney general’s case against Moxie Media as part of her bid to seek a new election in the 38th District, which includes Everett.