The Executive Ethics Board dismissed as “obviously unfounded or frivolous” a series of complaints filed last summer concerning several officials’ new jobs with startups benefiting from a clean-energy grant program.
A state ethics panel has dismissed complaints against several current and former state Department of Commerce officials involved in a clean-energy grant program.
The Seattle Times and public-radio Northwest News Network reported last month on revolving-door questions surrounding a portion of the state’s $36 million Clean Energy Fund, created in 2013 at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee.
The controversy has centered on three former Commerce officials who went to work for startup firms benefiting from energy-fund grants awarded by their former agency.
Rogers Weed, the former Commerce director, and Daniel Malarkey, former deputy director, now work at Seattle software firm 1Energy Systems. The company was founded by David Kaplan, who’d previously been a consultant at Commerce.
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A third former Commerce employee, Michael Carr, negotiated grant contract details for the state and then took a job at Mukilteo battery-maker UniEnergy Technologies.
While some lawmakers and others have questioned the appearance of that revolving door, the former agency officials have said all along they broke no ethics laws.
Meeting Friday morning, the state Executive Ethics Board agreed, dismissing a series of anonymous complaints filed last summer. There were eight complaints in all against current and former Commerce officials — all of which were rejected by the board as “obviously unfounded or frivolous.”
In Kaplan’s case, the ethics board found he didn’t fall under its jurisdiction because he’d never been a state employee.
The other complaints were all dismissed as unfounded, following the recommendations of a staff investigator, said Kate Reynolds, the board’s executive director. The board’s investigation found no evidence the former Commerce employees improperly influenced the grant process.
“The Ethics Board’s dismissal of all eight cases confirms for us that all of this has been more about anti-clean energy politics than any legitimate concern about wrongdoing,” said Kaplan in a written statement for 1Energy. “We are excited to return our complete focus to the cutting edge work that Washington State is enabling through its Clean Energy Fund program.”
Russ Weed, general counsel for UniEnergy, said in an email “we thank the board for its consideration” and noted the complaint was dismissed as “obviously unfounded or frivolous.”
Whether or not laws were violated, some state lawmakers and a former Commerce official have questioned the propriety of former agency managers jumping to firms that have become subcontractors on about $15 million in clean-energy fund grants.
In response, Commerce has beefed up its ethics training for employees and added conflict-of-interest disclosure requirements for contractors.
Notwithstanding the controversy, the Clean Energy Fund — which has paid for an array of clean-tech research and energy-efficiency projects — has retained support among state lawmakers.
Last year the Legislature approved a second round of funding, authorizing $40 million for the 2015-17 biennium.