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Locke Faces First Budget Crisis - Just To Reach Governor’s Mansion Tight State Budget Leaves Shortfall For Transition, Seeks Private Donors

David Ammons Associated Press

Gary Locke raised nearly $2.1 million to finance his successful campaign for governor, but said Wednesday he’s forced to continue fund raising to pay for his transition to the governor’s mansion.

He could run into some legal and ethical roadblocks.

And a fellow Democrat, Senate budget Chairwoman Nita Rinehart, suggested the private fund raising is “completely unnecessary” and that outgoing Gov. Mike Lowry should be able to squeeze the transition funding from the current budget.

The governor’s office replied that “money is extremely tight” and that $120,000 is all that Lowry can come up with for Locke’s two-month operation.

Locke, who defeated Ellen Craswell in a 59-41 percent rout last week, said Lowry’s decision leaves his transition budget $100,000 in the red and that he’ll have to turn to private donors. The state is providing free office space and furniture; Locke says staff salaries will be his main cost.

Locke will be sworn in Jan. 15.

Locke, who was not critical of Lowry or the Legislature, said some of the shortfall may be covered from a surplus in his campaign treasury once all the bills are paid. But he said he has no choice but to ask contributors to make up the difference.

That may be a problem. The Public Disclosure Commission will decide next Tuesday whether surplus campaign funds legally can be used for the transition expenses, said Executive Director Melissa Warheit. Campaigns are legally able to solicit through the end of this month to pay campaign debts.

If Locke wants to set up a separate office fund to pay the expenses, he should get a ruling from the Executive Ethics Commission, she said. There is a $50 limit on gifts to state officials, she said, making it hard to raise a large sum this way.

Another wrinkle: Surplus campaign funds cannot be transferred to an office fund.

“We’re aware there are questions out there,” said Locke spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison.

Locke told a news conference he sees no ethical problem with asking for donations after the election is over. Donors would have to abide by an $1,100 limit on contributions, he said.

Hutchison said it makes no sense to assume that a post-election donor would enjoy any more entree to Locke’s office than someone who took sides in the election and sent him money when he most needed it.

Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer who heads Locke’s finance committee and who serves on the transition team, will head the fund drive.

Rinehart, meanwhile, said Locke shouldn’t have to go hat in hand.

“The governor has $850,000 in his emergency fund which could clearly be used for this purpose,” she said in an interview. She said it was a proper use of tax dollars and would have been in the budget if Lowry had requested it or if lawmakers had noticed the need for an appropriation.

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