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Tuesday, February 18, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Congressional candidate accuses opponent of listing false endorsements

Congressional candidate Dave Wilson charges that opponent Joe Pakootas’ campaign is claiming endorsements that don’t exist.

Pakootas’ campaign responds that the accusation is driven by Pakootas turning down an overture to hold a one-on-one policy discussion.

Wilson, who is running as an independent for the 5th Congressional District seat held by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, publicly called out Pakootas, a Democrat, on Thursday night for listing the League of Women Voters’ Spokane chapter as an organization that endorses the Pakootas campaign. A political endorsement would threaten the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status.

Wilson said many of the members of the audience in the event sponsored by the League of Women Voters had no idea they were listed as Pakootas endorsers.

“Of course, they were highly chagrined,” Wilson said Friday.

Krystol McGee and Tom Horne also are running for the seat.

After the forum, Wilson sent out a news release detailing several other organizations listed under “Pakootas for Congress 2014-16 Organizational Endorsements” on Pakootas’ website that he believed could not or do not endorse the candidate.

The Wilson campaign also released a screen grab of Pakootas’ website from July 6 showing other endorsements the campaign doesn’t believe are true. When they confronted the Pakootas campaign, the endorsements were deleted, Wilson said.

Pakootas said Wilson is releasing the information because Pakootas refused an invitation to hold a policy discussion with just the two candidates, excluding McGee and Horne.

On June 14, Jackson Marchant, Wilson’s campaign manager, emailed Pakootas’ campaign manager, Susan Brudnicki, sharing his candidate’s frustration at not having enough time for substantive policy discussions during previous forums and debates. Marchant said he hoped an event with just Pakootas and Wilson could “draw in a larger audience” and that it would allow their candidates to “have a meaningful, informed dialogue without distractions.”

The Pakootas campaign responded, “Whether we like or not, both Krystol and Tom are bona fide candidates in this race and deserve the same opportunities both Dave and Joe receive to represent their views to the public,” and declined Wilson’s offer.

“He’s been asking a few things throughout this campaign and wanting to separate us from the other candidates,” Pakootas said. “And, maybe get some media attention.”

Wilson said his campaign’s decision to release the list had nothing to do with Pakootas’ rebuff, and was instead a result of false claims about the percentage of votes Pakootas garnered during the 2014 general election.

“To us, this was not a minor thing,” Wilson said. “Endorsements are important.”

The Wilson campaign highlighted 20 of the 89 total endorsing organizations they believed did not appear to have endorsed Pakootas. Of those, 10 said they did not endorse the candidate at any point in 2014 or 2016. About five endorsed Pakootas in 2014 only, and two endorsed him in 2014 and 2016. Three were unable to be identified in time for this story.

One of the endorsements was from the Cheney Free Press, but John McCallum, editor of the weekly newspaper, said he had no idea he was even on the endorsement list.

“I don’t know how he did that,” he said. “We usually like to sit down and talk our candidates in the eye before we endorse them, and we haven’t done that yet.”

Pakootas and his campaign manager claim many of the organizations on the list were either there by accident or were organizations that had endorsed the candidate in 2014 but had since dissolved as an entity.

Pakootas claimed “Vote 411 VOTER GUIDE” and “VOTESMART” were official endorsers. Yet both companies, Vote411.org and Vote Smart, are free websites that give voters information about candidates. A Vote Smart spokesperson said it often sends out questionnaires to candidates in the mail, but they make it clear that it doesn’t mean they’re endorsing them.

Pakootas was unclear on why his campaign listed them as endorsements, and said it was most likely just a mistake.

Neither candidate thinks the other is playing fair.

“We’ve tried choosing the high road,” said Brudnicki, Pakootas’ campaign manager. “Joe feels that it’s unfortunate that he has to resort to Republican campaign tactics.”

But as the Aug. 2 primary date comes closer, Wilson said, the inconsistencies he sees now with Pakootas aren’t going to cut it if either candidate plans on beating McMorris Rodgers, who has occupied the seat since 2005.

“To us, this is a big deal,” Wilson said. “These are falsehoods. These endorsements did not exist. They’re not an oversight. They’re not an accident.”

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