Fellow lawmakers question Pam Roach’s handling of finances, campaign rules

Rep. Chris Hurst

State Rep. Christopher Hurst says state Sen. Pam Roach should be investigated for possible improprieties in her legislative and campaign finances, and he says he will approach the appropriate authorities to get a probe or probes launched.

Hurst made the allegations late last week in a lengthy email sent to some of the area media. 

Roach says that charges wouldn’t hold up and questions Hurst’s motivation and timing in going to the media before filing any formal complaints. And she said Hurst has engaged in election-related activities of his own that are questionable under state law.

The charges and counter-charges underline the depth of divisions within the 31st District, which includes Auburn and Enumclaw, over the long-serving Roach. Hurst, a Democrat, is supporting Republican Rep. Cathy Dahlquist of Enumclaw, in her election campaign to unseat fellow Republican Roach from the 31st District Senate seat. Dahlquist and Hurst, who both are 31st District representatives, frequently work together across the aisle in the Washington House.

Hurst's email to the press came less than four weeks prior to the top-two Aug. 5 primary. Dahlquist and Roach are favored to win, setting up a faceoff between the two again in November.

Roach has served in the Washington Senate since 1990, making her the most senior senator in Olympia. She is known for her abrasiveness, which once led her to be banned from her own Republican caucus. Dahlquist has served in the House since 2010, deciding this year to challenge Roach. Both women are solid conservatives. Hurst is one of the more conservative House Democrats. A retired longtime police detective, Hurst is known as direct and willing to speak out. He faces Republican Phil Fortunato in November.

Hurst alleges that Roach charged the state for mileage driven for campaign purposes, neglected her work as a legislator to travel, and improperly conducted campaign business on a legislative cell phone that is reimbursed by the state. "It appears that Pam Roach is funding her campaigns with taxpayer dollars and has been doing so for many years,” Hurst wrote in his email.

He also questioned the level of expenses she has claimed for reimbursement by the state for official business as a legislator. Hurst said Roach has been reimbursed for $20,431 in expenses since 2011. His own reimbursements for the same period were $3,202, while Dahlquist's reimbursed expenses were $2,927, Hurst said.

In a Sunday phone interview, Hurst said a Republican consultant, Chad Minnick, stumbled across the fact that Roach's campaign cell phone number is the same as her legislative cell phone number. That prompted the consultant and Hurst to dig further on their own into Roach's expenses.

"We saw things that were staggering to the imagination," Hurst said about Roach's expenses.

Roach criticized Hurst for going to the press with his allegations before submitting them to the appropriate boards and agencies for investigation. "He has places to make those accusations,” she said.

Crosscut talked twice by phone with Roach on Sunday about Hurst's allegations — once for 45 minutes and once for five minutes.

"Chris is all about being a big blowfish. He's a frickin' blowfish," Roach said. She said that since Hurst has accused her of improprieties, she can accuse him of improprieties in return.

Roach said a potential King County judge candidate, John Torres, filed a police complaint against Hurst, alleging he made illegal threats of unveiling information about the dissolution of Torres' marriage unless he withdrew from the race. The Auburn police investigated the complaint. The police concluded no threats were made, and that Hurst was merely fulfilling an earlier request by Torres to give him a heads-up on any problems surfacing that could affect his candidacy, according to Auburn police records seen by Crosscut. Torres withdrew his candidacy on May 15, which was one week prior to his complaint with the police.

Roach accused Hurst and Dahlquist of making racial slurs by referring to sponsors of a trip abroad she took last year as "radical Islamists." She said she filed a complaint with the Washington State Legislative Ethics Board. She challenged Crosscut to look into it. Attempts to get details verbally from Roach were unsuccessful.

Her complaint was an apparent response to an earlier complaint filed by Dahlquist and Hurst against her, alleging she improperly took a 10-day junket in May 2013 to Azerbaijan against the advice of legislative attorneys.

Roach also accused Hurst of paying for four iPads that were jointly used by his and Dahlquist campaign, with the iPads used to record anti-Roach statements of people. That use properly relates only to Dahlquist's campaign; Roach suggests that Hurst is using his campaign money illegally to subsidize Dahlquist.

Dahlquist and Hurst said they have been openly campaigning in a joint, bipartisan venture. They said the two campaigns split the costs of any joint expenses in proportion to actual use, and have routinely run all joint efforts by the Washington Public Disclosure Commission to ensure they comply with election laws.

Here is a rundown of many of the allegations Hurst has raised against Roach.

  • Roach has filed dubious mileage payments.

Hurst complained that Roach, chairwoman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, took a trip to Salem, Oregon, on Feb. 26, 2014, a key day in the Legislature’s work as the cut-off date for policy bills to make it out of their chambers of origin. He said Roach was not in Olympia that day with the other committee chairpersons to monitor policy bills that were crisscrossing between the House and Senate.

"She went to Salem, Oregon for what she described as a 'Sportsman’s Event' and charged the taxpayers back home here in Washington $180.32 for 322 miles round trip on her car to drive there. Evidently, after that event, later that day after she came back, she drove to an unidentified location to attend another 'Sportsman’s Caucus,' which cost the taxpayers another $183.12 for another 327 miles on her personal car. That is 640 miles that the taxpayers reimbursed her for in a single day, for attending 'Sportsmen’s events' for a total of $395.12," Hurst wrote. He implied the trips might have about winning support for her re-election rather than conducting official business. "Her 2014 campaign lists many sporting group endorsements,” he wrote.

Elsewhere in his email, Hurst said distances she had claimed to have driven for mileage reimbursement to a “sportsmen” event in Cle Elum appeared to be excessive, based on a Google Maps check of routes.

Roach is an avid shooter with many awards for marksmanship. Roach said attending sportsmen-related meetings was a legitimate part of her legislative duties. She said she organized an outdoors sportsmen caucus in 2013 to tackle issues pertaining to hunting, fishing and other outdoors activities. Roach said she is the chair of that informal caucus.

Roach said the Senate support staff routinely approves her mileage reimbursement requests, so she is legally squared away on that issue. If Hurst has a problem with her mileage accounts, Roach said: "He should call the Secretary of the Senate and bitch with him."

Hurst and Dahlquist claimed that the Washington House's support staff scrutinizes expense reports much more closely than the Senate system does.

  • Roach's legislative and campaign cell phones are the same phone.

Hurst said the state Senate reimburses Roach for her cell phone minutes for a phone number with a 253 area code. Hurst pointed to Roach's campaign literature using the same 253 phone number as contact information. "Such use, for every call other than legislative business, is a violation of law," Hurst argued.

Roach said the 253 number cited by Hurst is purely a campaign number, and she uses a different number for legislative business. However, a June 13 email from Secretary of Senate counsel Keith Buchholz to Minnick, the Republican consultant working with Hurst, said: "I don’t know what phone number Sen. Roach uses for her campaign. The cell phone number for which the Senate reimburses is [the same 253 number noted by Hurst]."

  • Roach pays for satellite radio with public money.

Hurst alleged that the state is paying Roach $176 a year for her car's Sirius XM satellite radio.

"On her filing on the Senate reimbursement form, she states that this is for 'news source.' I have Sirius XM radio in my car, and I like it, but the taxpayers don’t pay for it, I do, so I also know that there is no local news at all, contrary to her claim,” he wrote.

Roach said, "It's an OK expenditure. If there was something wrong [the Senate reimbursement staff] would have said something about it."

  • Roach uses the same post office box for campaign and legislative uses.

Hurst noted that Roach uses the same post office box — P.O. Box 682 — as her official state senator mailbox and as her campaign box. He said the state pays for some of her mailbox expenses, noting an October 213 reimbursement request for $20 to rent P.O. Box 682. State law forbids campaign and official legislative addresses to be the same, Hurst said. Hurst also questioned her claiming 22 miles for reimbursements for each time she drove between her home and the post office, strongly suggesting she picks up campaign donations during some of those trips. And he said Roach uses Box 682 as an address on her fundraising literature.

"I'm sharing it. It's my post office box," Roach said. Then she interrupted several attempts at follow-up questions and kept deflecting Sunday morning's phone interview to the Torres matter and to her complaint against Dahlquist and Hurst about allegedly using defamatory language against the sponsors of her trip to Azerbaijan.

A non-governmental Turkish organization — the Gulem Islamists led by a controversial Turkish imam now living in Pennsylvania, Fethullah Gulen — arranged what appeared to be a predominantly cultural trip to Turkey and Azerbaijan for a few hundred state legislators from all over the United States. Several Washington legislators had planned to go on that trip from May 21 to May 31, 2013.

But three factors surfaced to stop most of the Washington group from going. The first was the House's and Senate's deadlocked budget talks, which sent the Legislature into two 30-day special sessions starting May 13 last year. The second was a warning from the Turkish consulate that the trip's sponsors had possible ties to radical Islamist policies. And House and Senate attorneys warned that the trip did not fit the usual criteria for a legislative trip abroad, including whether there was legislative or trade activity involved.  

Roach was the only Washington legislator not to drop out of the trip, according to reports at the time by Northwest Public Radio and KIRO radio.

"Senator Roach …. shirked her public legislative duties to the citizens of Washington and the 31st Legislative District to make the trip. She left in May, although neither the legislative session nor the State budget was completed until late June of 2013," Dahlquist and Hurst wrote in an undated complaint document that, he said, they sent a couple months ago to the Washington State Legislative Ethics Board.

Roach's counter-complaint focuses on Dahlquist and Hurst's description of the trip's sponsors as "radical Islamists," which she contends is a slur. Dahlquist said the "radical Islamists" description came from the Turkish consulate.

Whatever the future of any formal charges, the bad blood in the 31st District appears certain to continue to the November election, if not beyond.

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