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Going negative in Tacoma’s 27th District senate race: Another unreported attack mailer about Jack Connelly emerges

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Aug. 2, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
August 2, 2012 11:54 pm

A group calling itself “Tacomans for Integrity in Government,” distributed a second mailer this week attacking Tacoma trial lawyer and Democratic senate candidate Jack Connelly for his ties to a housing nonprofit found to have misspent public money.

But the political action committee — made up of supporters for Connelly’s opponent, fellow Democrat and state Rep. Jeannie Darneille – continues to flout state campaign finance law by not reporting contributions and spending to Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission.

“That committee hasn’t filed anything with us,” PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson said Thursday.

Meantime, Connelly’s campaign last week fired off an attack mailer of its own against Darneille and this week distributed robo-calls throughout the 27th legislative district to counter claims in the PAC’s two flyers.

Darneille, in turn, has disputed Connelly’s mailer, which claims she wrote legislation seeking reductions in sentencing and supervision for violent felons and voted against another bill to keep sex offenders “out of our communities.”

Darneille said the mailer exaggerates her role as a sponsor of two bills that came at the governor’s request and takes out of context a separate protest vote she made.  She added her campaign had nothing to do with the mailers about Connelly.

Ken Miller, a Tacoma political activist and chairman of the Tacomans PAC, has offered varying explanations for why his group hasn’t filed the required campaign paperwork. Earlier this week, the former Tacoma City Council candidate said his group misinterpreted the state’s reporting deadline because “we’re amateurs.”

On Wednesday, Miller said the group’s treasurer hadn’t filed the reports due to tending to a partner who is gravely ill.

“We’re not trying to obscure anything that we’re doing,” added Miller, who later emailed to a reporter a spreadsheet of his PAC’s contributions and spending.

The accounting shows the group has spent about $7,400 on printing and postage for each mailer. Another $2,000 was spent on consulting fees, bringing total expenses to about $16,800.  Miller has covered about $13,100 of that, with seven others collectively contributing about $3,700.

Sent to an undisclosed number of likely voters, the PAC’s mailers attack Connelly for his ties to the Martin Luther King Housing Development Association, an affordable housing nonprofit that in recent years spiraled into financial crisis amid mismanagement.

The first mailer claimed Connelly was on the nonprofit’s directors’ board when the agency misspent $4.4 million in grant money meant to build a Hilltop business and housing center.

Since the mailers hit, Connelly has said he was on a leave of absence from the board — which is responsible for the nonprofit’s financial oversight – when the nonprofit obtained and misspent the grants.

Connelly also contends he only actively returned to the board to help try to fix its financial mess. He has since loaned or donated about $104,000 to the nonprofit to help it pay its bills, he said.

But the nonprofit’s required annual filings to the Internal Revenue Service list Connelly among its board members every year since at least 2002.

Connelly said Thursday the nonprofit’s former director “apparently left my name on (the IRS reports).” But he also acknowledged attending at least one board meeting in 2007 and another in either 2008 or 2009, before taking a more active role to help the nonprofit.

Connelly also has disputed the amount stated as misspent in the mailer and largely blames any financial problems on the two executives he and other board members fired after money issues emerged in 2009.

State Department of Commerce officials said the amount cited in the mailer technically will become accurate next year, once a contract deadline lapses and there’s nothing to show for the already expended grant money.

The non-profit, which is now broke, won’t be able to build the envisioned business center for which the grants were awarded, state officials and Connelly have agreed.

The second mailer, which showed up in mailboxes this week, depicts an evidence bag and fingerprint diagram on one side, with an unshaven man wearing an FBI hat and speaking into a walkie-talkie on the other side. It states: “The FBI investigates MLKHDA for `losing’ millions of tax dollars, and who’s on the governing board? Jack Connelly.”

The mailer also cites part of a news story attributed to The Associated Press that describes the FBI’s investigation of the nonprofit. The story was a rewrite of a March 2010 News Tribune report, in which state officials confirmed the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into the nonprofit’s misspending.

Connelly called the mailer “a standard hit piece” based on misinformation and contends it falsely implies he was the subject of the FBI probe. He added FBI officials informed the nonprofit’s new director months ago they planned to drop the probe of its past director.

Dan McConnon, a state Commerce official, said last week the FBI hasn’t informed his department about any outcome, which he said has been the federal agency’s standard practice during similar investigations. “So, I assume it’s still an active thing,” he said.

Miller said the latest mailer doesn’t imply Connelly is the FBI’s target.

“I sought to leave the impression that the agency he helped to govern is the target of the investigation, and I think that that’s quite factual,” he said.

“If I were to get that piece of mail,” Miller added, “I would read it as either Jack Connelly wittingly took part in the behavior that has drawn in the FBI, or as a governor on the board, he was unaware of the behavior that drew in the FBI.

“He either knew or he didn’t know. Either way, he’s not showing the due diligence we would expect from a good steward of public funds.”

Miller added he didn’t seek to attribute the news story cited on the flyer to the AP to insinuate a broader impact to the story.

“No offense to the local newspaper, but it does have that benefit,” he said. “But that’s not why. That’s just what came up when I did my web search.”

Asked about the crime scene-type images on a mailer that speaks to a white-collar probe, Miller responded: “A photograph of forensic accountants sitting around reviewing files seemed to have less impact than what we were going for.”

At least two people, including a woman who has donated to Connelly’s campaign, filed complaints this week to the PDC about Miller’s PAC for failing to file reports.

But while his PAC has yet to report its activities, Miller found time Thursday to email the PDC to complain Connelly has filed an incomplete personal financial report that failed to include MLKHDA properties.

Anderson said Thursday Connelly isn’t required to list the properties because he doesn’t have an ownership stake in the nonprofit.

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