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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ads from independent group urging Pakootas write-in called ‘stunningly misleading’

A campaign mailer urging Democrats to cast a write-in vote for the state Senate in Spokane’s 6th District race is being denounced as “stunningly misleading” by an organization that has its logo displayed on the ad but had nothing to do with it.

Two newly formed political committees funded by conservatives are trying to convince progressives to write in Joe Pakootas for the Senate race instead of voting for Democrat Jessa Lewis.

But Pakootas isn’t mounting a write-in campaign and supports Lewis. He didn’t know about the mailer until a friend showed it to him.

“This is B.S.,” said Pakootas, who is the state Democratic Party vice chairman and is telling friends not to write in his name. “I’m 100 percent behind Jessa Lewis. I hope that people won’t be confused and not vote for her.”

The mailer quotes Fuse Washington, an umbrella group of progressive organizations, in extolling Pakootas’ qualifications, attributing the statement to the group’s Progressive Voter Guide. What it doesn’t say is that the statement is from the 2016 voter guide, when Pakootas was running for the 5th Congressional District seat against Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Lewis said the ad shows Republicans are desperate to keep her from capturing the open seat in her race against Jeff Holy, who currently serves in the House of Representatives.

Holy denounced the ad,saying it was “so far off” than anything he expected in the campaign.

“This is wrong,” he said Saturday. “I didn’t ask for this. I’m not happy with it. It just distracts people from what I’m trying to d.”t.

The ad calls Lewis a “fake progressive” who supported Republicans George Bush and Dino Rossi, and notes she owns firearms and has a concealed-carry permit. Lewis said she was a Republican right after high school – a result, she said, of being raised in an evangelical Christian family – but became a Democrat as a single mom concerned about health care, economic issues and student loan debt.

Authors of the ad apparently don’t think people can support gun rights and universal health care, she said.

The mailer carries the logo of Fuse along with the quote about Pakootas. Collin Jergens, spokesman for the organization, said it is “absolutely not” calling for a write-in campaign against Lewis. It has endorsed her in this year’s Progressive Voters Guide.

“This is a stunningly misleading attack,” Jergens said. “This is a desperate tactic for someone who must think Jessa Lewis is about to win.”

Fuse has contacted its lawyer about the unauthorized use of its logo by another group, he said.

The mailer carries the state-required notice that it was paid for by a group calling itself Conscience of the Progressives, with the top contributor the Send A Message PAC. By going to the Public Disclosure Commission website, as the mailer suggests, voters would discover Send a Message gets most of its money from Glen Morgan, of Olympia, and Peter Zieve, of Mukilteo.

Morgan is a conservative activist and longtime watchdog of campaign finance laws who has filed numerous challenges to Democratic candidates and party organizations. He’s not a progressive, and said the name of the committee is meant to denote he has served as their conscience for years by pointing out their failures in accounting for campaigns.

Zieve is a businessman who owns an aerospace supply company and was a major donor to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. His company was once cited for discriminating against Muslims in its hiring practices and entered into a consent decree with the state attorney general’s office.

Zieve contributed $10,000 to Send A Message, and Morgan loaned that PAC $10,000. Send A Message then moved that money into Conscience of the Progressives, which paid for mailers urging write-in votes against Lewis and Democratic candidates in two other legislative districts. Only one other donor is listed for Send a Message.

Morgan denied that was an effort to obscure the source of funding, but instead was necessary to scrupulously adhere to state campaign finance laws that require listing the top five donors on campaign ads. They would be out of compliance if other donors gave later donations, he said.

He said he listed the PDC’s website on the mailer, to help people look up the reports, along with his address, which isn’t required. His phone number listed on the committee’s initial PDC filing was incorrect, which he said was a typo that would be quickly fixed.

Morgan defended the ad against Lewis and in two other districts as an answer to progressives who say they are dissatisfied with their Democratic Party choices and denied that it represented a desperate attempt to keep the seat in Republican hands.

“I don’t think there’s anything desperate about giving people more options,” he said. It was fair to quote Fuse’s endorsement for Pakootas in a different year for a different office because as far as he knew, the organization hadn’t revoked that endorsement.

But writing in Pakootas won’t be much of a choice for voters, because he won’t be filing as a write-in candidate. A new state law requires such a filing to count write-in votes for a candidate.

Morgan said a high number of write-in votes could still send a message that progressives are dissatisfied, and possibly also a signal to the Legislature to change the law.

Asked if he told Pakootas he would be urging voters to write in his name on their ballots he replied: “I did not.”