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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Inslee campaign cleared by state panel

Small-business group backs McKenna in race

OLYMPIA – The state’s campaign watchdog rejected complaints about contributions and spending by Democrat Jay Inslee while a small-business group tried to boost Republican Rob McKenna’s chances for governor Monday.

Just days before Washington voters get their ballots in the mail and just over three weeks before the deadline to mail them back, the Public Disclosure Commission voted unanimously to reject a complaint against Inslee filed by McKenna’s campaign manager, Randy Pepple.

It challenged the way Inslee, a former U.S. representative, transferred money from the federal account for his congressional re-election campaign to the state account for his gubernatorial campaign. And it contended he was spending money on his campaign months before filing his paperwork.

PDC staff, however, said the Inslee campaign handled the transfers of leftover congressional campaign money appropriately and the way it was instructed by the agency. The McKenna campaign also claimed Inslee became a candidate for governor in January 2011 after spending money on polls and research, and then missed the two-week deadline to file as a candidate.

His congressional campaign did spend some $70,000 between January and April 2011 to research and analyze whether Inslee should run for re-election to the House or for governor, PDC Compliance Director Phil Stutzman said, but that wasn’t a campaign expense. There was no evidence it was used to promote his gubernatorial campaign, and Inslee didn’t meet the legal test to be a candidate until August, when he filed the proper paperwork, Stutzman added.

“It appears that the Inslee campaign was being proactive and attempting to understand what its responsibilities were,” Commissioner Grant Degginger said in making a motion to dismiss the complaint, which passed unanimously.

McKenna did not attend the hearing, but said earlier in the day he had read the PDC staff report and considered it “fairly astonishing” that the staff concluded it was acceptable to use federal funds for research in the governor’s race.

McKenna, the Republican attorney general, joined several members of the National Federation of Independent Business at a press conference where he promised to do more to streamline the state’s processes for obtaining licenses and permits.

The state has instigated a “one-stop shopping” approach for business licenses and permits, but many agencies don’t participate, McKenna said. A recent performance audit found that Washington requires a total of 1,377 different licenses or permits for various businesses and professions, with different agencies sometimes asking for the same information. It also found that while most agencies have websites, all the information a business might need to secure a permit or licenses isn’t always available online.

“The idea of streamlining isn’t really catching on,” McKenna said. “They’re not talking to the people they are regulating, and they should be.”

He said there was no “magic number” he’d like to reach in reducing the number of permits and licenses. But if elected he would appoint agency directors and department leaders who have private sector experience.