OLYMPIA – A Spokane Valley legislator who traveled to protests against federal land policies in Oregon and Nevada didn’t violate any ethics rules, a state board ruled Tuesday.
The Legislative Ethics Board dismissed a series of complaints against Republican Rep. Matt Shea involving a trip to Oregon early this year during the occupation of a federal wildlife refuge by Ammon Bundy and others, and another to Nevada in 2014 during a standoff between Cliven Bundy and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The complaint was filed by Theresa Ottosen of Fairfield, who contended Shea used his position as a legislator to “interfere and hobknob” with known felons “to support armed militia conducting an armed standoff with federal officers.”
Shea told the board he made both trips for “fact-finding” and to mediate if needed. Washington has similar issues on federal land mismanagement, he wrote in a response to the complaint.
“In this case, I was also successful in helping mediate a peaceful resolution on two separate occasions after my visit,” he wrote of the 2016 trip.
In Oregon, Shea and legislators from several other states met with county administrative and law enforcement officials on Jan. 9, saying they wanted to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns. Local officials told them their help wasn’t needed and there was nothing to negotiate, but going out to the refuge would likely prolong the standoff.
Shea and the others did talk to the protesters, and the siege continued until Jan. 27, when Ammon Bundy and several other protesters were arrested en route to a meeting, and one armed member of the group, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was shot and killed by police.
Bundy and other protesters from the refuge face federal charges in Oregon. His father, Cliven, faces federal charges in Nevada as a result of the 2014 armed standoff over the use of land under the control of the BLM. Ottosen included the federal charges from each case as part of her ethics complaint against Shea.
In dismissing the complaint, the board said Shea traveled to the protests at his own expense when the Legislature was not in session.
“The assertion that he was able to ‘interfere and hobknob’ and that equated to an impermissible special privilege is without merit,” it concluded.
Ottosen also contended Shea unlawfully received money from taxpayers during the trips because he was getting his legislative salary. But the law against compensation for outside activities, which she cited, prohibits legislators from receiving money from grants or contracts, the board ruled. It doesn’t have the authority to deny a legislator part of his annual salary.
Shea didn’t collect per diem payments while on the trips and was in Olympia for the start of the session on Jan. 11, even though he was in Oregon on Jan. 9 and 10, the board said.
Her final complaint was that the trips violated an ethics rule against private use of state resources for “conduct that is prohibited by state or federal law.” But the board said the rule Ottosen cites covers members of the executive branch, and even if the Legislative Ethics Board were to adopt an identical rule it wouldn’t apply because Shea wasn’t using state resources.
Ottosen said Tuesday she had no plans to appeal or seek another avenue for her complaint.
“I was just so appalled that a professional legislator would be there,” she said. “I wanted him to answer for it.”