The state’s campaign watchdog decided Bunney’s election-year mailing crossed the line separating a taxpayer-funded newsletter and a campaign ad.
Fifteen months after coming up short in the 2010 campaign for state House, Bunney has agreed to pay an $850 fine, plus another $850 that will be suspended if no more violations turn up. The Public Disclosure Commission approved the settlement today on a 3-0 vote.
The Republican former councilman from Lake Tapps followed county rules that restrict mailings after July 31 — a deadline the council changed to May 31 after the flap over Bunney’s mailer. But the PDC says he violated a state law against using public facilities “for the purpose of assisting a campaign.”
Bunney says the law is unclear. “For other elected officials,” he warned after the vote, “be leery of relying on your agency’s standard, when the state will second-guess it after the fact.”
Bunney’s mailer was produced by his campaign consultant and a company that had done campaign printing for him — something he and others said was not an unheard-of practice among County Council members. Bunney said he drew it up based on the rules and what other county elected officials had done.
The piece was also flashier and more photo-heavy than previous newsletters, and boasted the council was “Stretching Your County Tax Dollar.”
Two complaints were filed against Bunney. Cathy Dahlquist, a fellow Republican who ended up beating Bunney in the election, made it a campaign issue.
“If there were violations, they were inadvertent,” Bunney said. “I hope that the PDC will revisit their policies and establish objective standards.”
The commission gave some details on how it would interpret the law in 1979, when it issued a “declaratory ruling” saying a piece is improper if it goes to voters near an election and seems designed to “draw attention” to a candidate and boost name recognition.
The commission’s chairman, Barry Sehlin of Oak Harbor, said the rules seem clear.
“It seems to be working fine to me,” he said.