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Auditor’s office gets campaign calls; James Watkins says it won’t happen again

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Oct. 17, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
October 17, 2012 1:06 pm

Campaign workers for state-auditor candidate James Watkins solicited contributions from auditor’s office employees at work — a practice Watkins acknowledges is inappropriate. He says he didn’t condone the calls to state-government offices and has put a stop to them.

“I apologize for any impropriety and it will not happen again,” Watkins told me.

Auditor Brian Sonntag said he contacted Watkins to ask for the calls to stop. “I sent him off a quick text and said, ‘You may not be aware, but some of our staff are getting phone calls soliciting donations,’” he said. Sonntag, a Democrat who has praised both candidates but who hasn’t endorsed, said: “I just look at public employees as off-limits when they’re on the public clock.”

He said Watkins responded right away. Watkins said his fundraisers, who work on commission, were making calls to a list of people who had donated in past auditor’s races. One of the fundraisers is no longer is working for the campaign, he said.

“I was told about it and they immediately stopped,” said Watkins, a Republican.

While state employees aren’t allowed to help a campaign while on the job, laws don’t appear to prohibit campaigns from calling a state office, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.

The campaign of Watkins’s opponent, Tacoma Democrat Troy Kelley, forwarded me voice messages left with two employees by two callers, including one suggesting the employee might want to return his call on a private phone.

Watkins noted he’s at a disadvantage in the fundraising battle. He has raised $119,000 to his opponent’s $660,000, including more than $500,000 that Kelley has personally donated or loaned his campaign. Kelley doubled his personal contribution to the race with contributions reported Monday and Tuesday.

It has been a bitterly fought campaign, much of it centered on allegations of theft and tax evasion against Kelley, which he denies.

As for what they say the candidates say they would do as auditor — you can read about that here. Sonntag said he wishes those issues were receiving more attention: “That’s all gotten kind of lost, or at least shoved to a back room, with all the bickering back and forth.”

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