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Commentaries and editorials

Franklin County Accused
of Lobbying Misdeeds

by Michelle Dupler
Tri-City Herald, July 30, 2010

PASCO -- Franklin County is among 68 public agencies or local governments targeted by the conservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation in a series of lobbying disclosure complaints filed this week.

The foundation filed 68 separate complaints with the state's Public Disclosure Commission alleging the agencies collectively failed to report $4 million in lobbying expenditures from 2001-09.

The complaint against Franklin County claims the county commissioners failed to file required forms reporting their payments to lobbyist James Potts of Spokane for 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009.

Franklin County Administrator Fred Bowen and Commission Chairman Brad Peck did not return messages left Thursday by the Herald.

According to Potts' own disclosure forms, and the forms the county filed in 2003 and 2008, the county has paid Potts $3,600 each year to act as its lobbyist.

Potts, a former Whitman County commissioner, has been a lobbyist since 1997 and said he acts as the Franklin County commissioners' "eyes and ears" in Olympia.

"They have me watching for any kind of legislation that would impact them either negatively or positively," Potts said. "I report back to them on a weekly basis what I'm seeing and hearing over there."

He also talks to lawmakers about issues of interest not only for Franklin County, but also about a dozen other rural counties in Washington

That's the kind of activity that requires a public agency to file a form disclosing lobbying expenses, according to Public Disclosure Commission rules.

PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson said public agencies are allowed to lobby the Legislature, but if they do it four days or more each quarter, they have to file a disclosure form.

She said it was too early to say whether the 68 agencies listed in the Evergreen Freedom Foundation complaints had violated public disclosure laws or what the consequences might be if violations are found.

Lobbyists also are required to report what's paid to them by clients, which is how the foundation discovered the agencies hadn't filed their forms.

The complaints were filed by Preston Mui, a summer fellow with the foundation, who discovered the discrepancies while compiling information for a report on taxpayer-funded lobbying in the state.

The report showed a total of $42.4 million was spent by public agencies on state-level lobbying between 2000 and 2009. More than $6 million was spent in 2009 alone -- more than double the $2.7 spent in 2000.

Among the top spenders in the state are the University of Washington, spending nearly $1.7 million from 2000-09, the King County Council, spending more than $1.6 million; city of Seattle, spending nearly $1.3 million, and the governor's office, spending $1.2 million.

Energy Northwest was the only Mid-Columbia agency to make the top 20, with lobbying expenditures of $644,000 over the decade.

Among the agencies listed in the complaints were Sound Transit, King and Spokane counties, the King County Executive Office, the cities of Spokane, Tacoma and Vancouver.

In the Mid-Columbia, Grant and Yakima counties and the Port of Moses Lake were listed as failing to disclose lobbying expenses.

Mui said he thinks it's important for citizens to be aware of how their tax dollars are being spent.

"This is a time when people are desperate for jobs and struggling to pay the bills, and public agencies are spending millions of dollars on lobbyists," he said.

"The biggest outrage is the failure of public agencies to disclose their lobbying activities," Mui said. "It's bad enough Sound Transit spent $800,000 of our money lobbying for even more of our money. It's another thing altogether for them not to tell us about it."

Michelle Dupler
Franklin County Accused of Lobbying Misdeeds
Tri-City Herald, July 30, 2010

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