OLYMPIA — In recent years, political-action committees and large corporations have funded the bulk of Washington state Rep. Matt Shea’s reelection campaigns.
Perhaps unwittingly, those donors have bankrolled a campaign operation used by Shea, a Republican from Spokane Valley, to air his far-right views on a regular radio program, advance plans to secede from Washington by forming a 51st state, even travel to “anti-terrorism” training.
Since 2011, Shea’s campaign has paid at least $68,000 — roughly 13% of all contributions he has raised — to American Christian Network, a for-profit broadcasting company based in Spokane, according to a review of a decade of state campaign-finance records.
The money has been paid largely in monthly invoices to American Christian Network, which for years has hosted Shea’s show, Patriot Radio, according to Washington Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) records.
A review of some of the hourlong broadcasts finds Shea, who was first elected in 2008, railing against Muslims, Marxists and other perceived enemies, espousing his strident brand of Christianity and press for his proposed state of Liberty.
In an early August episode, Shea discussed a theory that conservatives are possibly being conditioned to be hunted down and killed by elites. To bolster his case, Shea cited unspecified threats made against him and others by anti-fascists.
“This is here, now, in our generation,” Shea said. “And we need to stand up, we need to stand up and fight back. And we need to do it according to the pattern Jesus Christ has left us.”
Shea, a 45-year-old attorney, has also spent campaign money for mileage traveling across Eastern Washington to promote his plan to create a 51st state from counties east of the Cascade Mountains.
And reports show donors in 2018 funded more than $700 of unspecified “security” purchases by Shea, as well as plane tickets to travel to “anti-terrorism training.”
Washington law requires that campaign donations in most cases not go to personal use, but spent on items or activities directly related to the campaign.
Thus, the airfare, mileage and purchases of security items would be considered legal provided they’re directly related to campaign activities, according to PDC spokeswoman Kim Bradford.
The PDC, which enforces campaign-finance laws, does not have guidelines on the use of radio broadcasts, so Shea’s election spending with American Christian Network may well be allowed, Bradford said.
First elected in 2008, Shea is now subject of a House-commissioned investigation to determine whether he planned or promoted political violence and the extent of his association with those involved in such activities.
The investigation comes after a year of news reports — including in Rolling Stone and the Bundyville story series and podcast, published by Longreads and Oregon Public Broadcasting — documenting Shea’s associations with anti-government extremists.
The Guardian, a British publication, reported Shea was included in group chats discussing violence and surveillance against political opponents, and wrote about Shea’s ties to a group of young men training with firearms in Eastern Washington to prepare for biblical warfare.
In Spokane, The Spokesman-Review recently reported that Shea allegedly discussed tracking political opponents with methods such as GPS devices, and purportedly has a list of every law-enforcement officer in Washington.
Last year, the publication reported on a document Shea acknowledged distributing titled “Biblical Basis for War” that provides guidelines for conducting holy war.
After the biblical war revelations — which Shea defended as a historical summary of sermons — several big contributors, including AT&T, BNSF, Avista and the Washington Association of Realtors asked for their money back.
The lawmaker — who raised $111,145 during the 2018 election cycle — has no legal obligation to do so. Spokespeople for most of those donors recently told The Seattle Times that Shea did not return the contributions, and that some of them don’t plan to donate again.
Shea, who rarely answers questions from news organizations, did not respond to emails or calls seeking comment for this story.
Now, four other big-name donors — Allstate, Boeing, the Washington Health Care Association and Weyerhaeuser — say they’ll no longer contribute to Shea.
In an email, Boeing spokesman Paul Bergman wrote that “Diversity and inclusion are core Boeing values.”
“Boeing PAC contributed to Rep. Shea’s 2018 reelection campaign prior to disturbing news reports of his activities,” wrote Bergman, whose company gave Shea $2,000 last year. “Boeing PAC has not donated to him since then and will not do so in the future.”
Shea’s campaign has since 2011 directly paid American Christian Network more than $68,000. Records show that payment in recent years has come in monthly installments of $1,250.
According to Shea’s campaign website, the show is played throughout Eastern Washington on a variety of AM and FM stations.
Shea doesn’t necessarily focus on his campaign or legislative duties on Patriot Radio.
For instance, in an hourlong late October 2018 program — which took place after ballots had been mailed out for the Nov. 6 general election — Shea spent about three minutes on the election.
In that time, Shea didn’t mention his own campaign, or ask listeners to vote for him. Instead, he told listeners about his preferred choices in local races and statewide ballot measures.
The lawmaker spent much of that show espousing his thoughts on Christianity, talking against Muslims and Marxists, comparing the attack of police officers in America to political instability in Iraq, and interviewing a guest about anti-fascist demonstrators in Seattle and Portland.
Shea’s next radio program that year, in early November, came shortly after news reports about the biblical-war document. He responded by denying being a racist or anti-Semite, and touted unsuccessful measures he’d sponsored in Olympia in support of Israel.
Other than mentioning people who have prayed for his campaign and exhorting people to vote up and down the ballot in the election, Shea made no mention of his candidacy or campaign.
Shea is now under investigation by the PDC into a complaint that he improperly gave campaign-surplus money to American Christian Network.
Surplus money consists of unspent funds left over from candidate campaigns and is governed by different requirements than direct campaign spending. PDC records show Shea used surplus dollars to pay American Christian Network monthly installments totaling at least $8,500 during a period when he didn’t use direct campaign money for radio spending.
Emails seeking comment from American Christian Network were not returned.
Shea has also spent thousands of campaign dollars on audio and visual gear, including paying American Christian Network $1,800 in 2014 for audio equipment, according to records. Reports show Shea this year bought a podcast console ($677).
In 2018 he reported spending $368 on airfare to attend anti-terrorism training, though did not include where he went or who conducted the training.
Shea in 2018 spent at least $586 on mileage for travel outside his district to promote the 51st state, which he’s sponsored as legislation.
The lawmaker in 2017 spent at least $649 in campaign-surplus funds on mileage for similar presentations, according to records.
Shea in 2018 also spent a combined $728 for three different unspecified purchases of “security” products from Amazon.
Concerns over “values”
Those companies and organizations that asked Shea for a refund after the biblical-war-document revelation included AT&T, Avista, BNSF, Puget Sound Energy, the Washington Realtors Association and the Credit Union Legislative Action Fund.
Spokespersons with those organizations said they didn’t get their money back, except for BNSF.
BNSF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace wouldn’t say whether the company got its $2,000 in contributions returned from last election cycle.
But, “BNSF is not and will not be supporting Rep. Matt Shea,” Wallace wrote in an email. “We strongly condemn the views expressed as they are in direct contrast to our values of diversity and inclusion.”
Spokespersons for Phillips 66 and the Washington State Hospital Association — which each gave Shea $1,000 in 2018 — declined to comment.
Other companies that contributed to Shea during the 2018 campaign cycle — including Geico, Anheuser-Busch and Monsanto, which each chipped in $1,000 — didn’t return emails seeking comment.
The Washington Hospitality Association — which last year gave Shea $1,000 — isn’t scheduled to discuss its 2020 candidate endorsements until June, according to spokeswoman Nicole Vukonich.
“These recent developments will definitely be a part of any future conversations with our members,” Vukonich wrote in an email, adding later: “His words and actions are inconsistent and contrary to the values of the Washington Hospitality Association and those of our members.”