This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
Everybody’s doing it. As grating as it might sound, that defense may be enough to put Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney’s recent mailing in the clear.
Bunney, running for state Legislature, is under fire for his latest council newsletter: a full-color mailer that bears at least a passing resemblance to the political spin jobs showing up in voters’ mail boxes on a daily basis.
The $13,000 mailer, which features a large photo of a woman stretching a dollar and was mailed weeks before the primary ballots, was produced by his campaign consultant.
Bunney’s opponent, Cathy Dahlquist, alleges the newsletter is campaign propaganda produced at taxpayer expense. Bunney says it’s legitimate communication to his County Council constituents, jazzed up to get recipients to read it.
Dahlquist has a point: What other reason could Bunney have for sending out a promotional piece in the waning months of his last term on the County Council – except to better his chances for landing an elected position elsewhere?
At the same time, Bunney apparently broke no county rules in producing or mailing the flier. Nor did he bust his budget. Every council member is given
$123,900 for office operations and can spend it as they see fit.
More significant for the Public Disclosure Commission reviewing the complaints against him, Bunney might have some precedent on his side. He contends his is not the first county mailer to use eye-grabbing images or catchy slogans. The mailer is also not the first to be produced by an outside consultant with ties to a county’s official’s campaign.
Provided Bunney can prove that his newsletter matches a pattern of past newsletters and is therefore part of the normal business of the county, he will likely be found in compliance with state campaign rules.
But even if the PDC declares the mailer entirely legal, this episode bears review by county officials.
Bunney’s mailing is suspicious largely because of its timing. Council members can mail newsletters until July 31 in election years. That’s far too late when the campaign season itself kicks off in early June. Incumbents in Congress and the state Legislature – the offices to which outgoing county councilmembers often aspire – have to meet May deadlines.
The County Council should follow their lead. The sooner official newsletters hit mailboxes in election years, the more justified councilmembers are in asserting that they are merely seeking to inform.