Nearly five months after Gary Locke was elected governor, the state’s campaign watchdog agency has opened an investigation of a controversial campaign brochure.
The brochure, mailed to about 100,000 voters in September, implied that U.S. Sens. Slade Gorton, a Republican, and Patty Murray, a Democrat, supported Democrat Locke in the crowded Democratic primary.
The state Public Disclosure Commission is investigating whether the brochure was truly produced independent of the Locke campaign, as advertised, said Melissa Warheit, commission executive director.
The brochure was produced and distributed by a new political action committee called Friends for a Better Washington. The PAC was bankrolled by three backers with close ties to Locke: Tacoma attorney Charles Herrmann, Kirkland developer Herb Chaffey and the Washington Horsemen’s PAC.
If Locke or his campaign knew about the brochure in advance, state law would have been violated because the brochure was paid for with contributions far in excess of what Locke could have accepted directly.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Monday that Herrmann and Chaffey were Locke contributors. Herrmann’s daughter wound up on the Locke campaign payroll; Chaffey tried to sell King County property for a jail site while Locke was King County executive.
The Horsemen’s PAC is presided over by Martin Durkan Sr., whose son, Martin Durkan Jr., is a lobbyist and key Locke supporter.
Warheit said the commission also is investigating whether the brochure violated a state law against false political advertising.
She said the commission’s interest in the brochure was piqued in September, when the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe filed a complaint. It was later withdrawn, but the commission recently decided to launch an investigation anyway, she said.
The treasurer of Friends for a Better Washington, Leif Bentsen, said he would have no comment on the PDC investigation until it is completed.
Locke denounced the brochure during the campaign, saying it illustrated the problems that can occur with so-called “independent expenditures” by supporters. The campaign has refunded about $3,700 to contributors who gave too much cash.
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