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Commission Approves Fine Against Potato Tycoon Businessman Will Pay $52,500 Fine For Donations To Foreman Campaign

Chris Mulick The Associated Press Contributed To Staff writer

An Eastern Washington businessman will pay a $52,500 fine for violating campaign finance laws while backing Republican Dale Foreman in last year’s governor’s race.

The state Public Disclosure Commission voted 3-0 Tuesday to accept a settlement negotiated between the commission staff and Othello potato tycoon Pete Taggares Sr.

Taggares is accused of funneling $15,500 through seven of his employees and three of his corporations. Under state law, individuals cannot contribute more than $1,100 to any campaign for state office and cannot reimburse others for making additional contributions for them.

In a yearlong investigation, the PDC found some employees were reimbursed in various ways for making large contributions to Foreman’s campaign.

Employees Angel and Erlinda Uresti gave $1,000 each to the campaign. Ten days later, they received a check for $2,083 from PJ Taggares Co.

Taggares originally told PDC investigators the check was a bonus, then later called it a loan.

State law prohibits one person from reimbursing another for a political contribution, and it bars employers from increasing the salaries of employees so the employees can give to a candidate. It also prohibits contributions from more than one affiliated company to the same candidate.

Foreman, who lost in the primary, paid a $1,500 fine last year for accepting the illegal contributions. He’s now chairman of the state Republican Party.

Taggares’ attorney, David Burman, acknowledged Tuesday that “mistakes were made,” but disagreed with the commission staff’s conclusion that Taggares attempted to conceal the fact that he was the true source of the contributions.

Instead, he said Taggares simply suffered from an ignorance of the law, adding that Taggares signed the agreement in order to end the case and avoid potentially more expensive penalties in court.

“Obviously, we disagree strongly with the commission’s position,” Burman said. “We simply see no purpose in fighting over the mistakes.”

Commissioners responded with skepticism.

“I’m troubled by your statement there was no intent to conceal what the source of the money was,” said Commission Chairman Gary Maehara.

Maehara said the notion that Angel Uresti, who is not a U.S. citizen and cannot vote, acted simply out of generosity “stretches my imagination.”

When he made the contribution, Uresti didn’t know what office Foreman was running for, according to the PDC staff.

“We did not feel that these were free and voluntary contributions,” said Jim Frush, a private attorney hired by the commission to investigate the Taggares case in place of Attorney General Christine Gregoire, who received donations from Taggares during her 1992 campaign.

“It seems to me at the least there is an abuse of the employer’s power,” said Commissioner Barbara Cothern.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: KEYWORD = CAMPAIGN FINANCE, FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE BYLINE = Chris Mulick Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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