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Campaign mailer or official newsletter? Investigators will decide

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on July 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
July 30, 2010 4:32 pm

Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney’s constituents have received a piece of mail touting Bunney’s accomplishments, coming during campaign season but paid for with county money.

The mailer, with a large picture of a woman “stretching your county tax dollar,” looks different from Bunney’s past newsletters, but Bunney said it has the same purpose: keeping the people he represents updated on what he’s doing.

Bunney is running for an open state House seat in the 31st Legislative District that straddles eastern Pierce and King counties. He faces a primary election Aug. 17 against fellow Republican Cathy Dahlquist and Democrat Peggy Levesque. Ballots are going out to voters now.

Two complaints about the mailer have been filed with the Public Disclosure Commission, and Dahlquist is seizing on the piece, asking Bunney to reimburse the county.

The details of how it was produced could be important in whether the PDC pursues the complaints, but county staff said no one was available this week to answer questions about the mailer.

Bunney said he doesn’t know how much the mailer cost, other than it was cheaper than his mailers in previous years. He isn’t saying how it was produced or how those cost savings were achieved, only that it involved bidding and invoices and “went through the appropriate processes.”

It’s illegal to use public facilities to help a campaign, but anything that’s part of the normal and regular conduct of a public agency is fair game. To figure out whether something is normal and regular, the PDC looks at whether it fits with patterns over time, agency spokeswoman Lori Anderson said.

In a statement, Dahlquist calls it a “campaign mailer” that has “taxpayers picking up the bill to help him with his political career.”

This kind of behavior hurts our conservative cause. Our ideas of smaller, more efficient government are lost on the public when career politicians with the Republican label use their position to empower themselves.

Bunney said it’s Dahlquist who’s scoring political points. He’s seen it before, he said:

The week of ballots dropping, somebody’s going to make some allegation. I think that this is completely within the rules, and more importatly, I think it is very important to communicate with the constituents about how you are managing their important tax dollars.

He said there’s nothing wrong with making his mailings more attractive, rather than “an old-school newsletter that nobody reads because it just looks plain.”

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