House Majority Leader Dale Foreman has been cleared of allegations that he illegally advanced his campaign for governor during the 1995 legislative session, the state’s campaign-watchdog agency said Wednesday.
The Public Disclosure Commission did criticize the Republican candidate.
“We unanimously believe there was a great violation of the spirit of the law,” commission chairman Don Brazier said.
But the commission voted 3-2 to clear Foreman of violating a 1992 ban on lawmakers raising campaign money during the legislative session.
The PDC voted at a brief open session after three hours of private deliberations at a motel here.
“We applaud the commissioners and are pleased that they conducted such a fair hearing,” Foreman said in a prepared statement sent by fax to news organizations. “As I have said all along, the case against me was a political attack brought on by one of my opponents and was a charge that never deserved to be heard, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Pam Roach of Auburn, who complained to the commission staff last year that Foreman might be violating the law, could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
Foreman’s chief campaign strategist, Brett Bader, scoffed at the commission statement that Foreman violated the spirit of the law.
“The courts don’t rule on a spirit of the law,” he said. “They rule on the law.”
The investigation and hearing “would have killed a lesser campaign,” Bader said.
Foreman has trailed the front-runners in the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. The leaders have included Ellen Craswell, Norm Maleng and Jim Waldo.
Jim Whiteside, a former state lawmaker from Yakima who cast one of the two dissenting votes, said he thought Foreman violated the intent of the law.
Voters “do not want legislators raising money during the session. In this case, Mr. Foreman was out raising money,” Whiteside said.
Brazier, who voted with the majority, said the panel decided to clear Foreman because of what panel members considered a poor definition of the term “candidate” in the statute. Because of that, he said, the PDC could not determine whether Foreman was technically a candidate for governor when his Campaign for Washington political action committee began operating early last year.
In commission hearings last week, the state contended the committee’s primary purpose was to give Foreman, its honorary chairman, widespread name recognition in a growing field of GOP gubernatorial hopefuls.
The PDC staff asserted Foreman used the committee as a front to get around the ban on lawmakers raising campaign money during a legislative session and during the 30 days before and after.
Foreman’s lawyers contended the committee was formed to promote the GOP House agenda and that Foreman, as House majority leader, was the obvious choice for its spokesman.
They agreed Foreman benefited from exposure provided by committee mailings and other activities, but said it was “a fringe benefit,” a term Foreman used when he testified at the hearing’s opening session Aug. 27.
Foreman says he did not decide to enter the governor’s race until August 1995.
The case was an early test of the session fund-raising ban, imposed under a statute adopted by voters in 1992. Foreman has challenged the law in federal court, saying it violates First Amendment free-speech guarantees. Bader said Foreman had not yet decided if he would drop the suit.
In closing arguments Friday, Foreman attorney William J. Glueck said if Foreman’s role on the committee gave him a head start in the campaign, “So what?”
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