The state Public Disclosure Commission says too much time has lapsed to investigate a claim that Seattle Mayor Ed Murray misused surplus campaign funds in 2008, when he was a state senator, to ward off sexual-abuse allegations.

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The state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) says too much time has passed to investigate a complaint over Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s use of surplus campaign funds in 2008 to ward off allegations of sexual abuse.

Evelyn Fielding Lopez, the watchdog agency’s executive director, said Tuesday the five-year statute of limitations for such cases had lapsed.

Chris Clifford, a Renton activist, had filed a civil complaint with the PDC on Saturday, arguing the 2008 payments were illegal and that Murray should be fined.

Murray, then a Democratic state senator, paid a Portland attorney and a private investigator more than $18,000 that year to defend against claims raised by Jeff Simpson, who alleged to journalists and others that Murray had sexually abused him decades earlier.

Ed Murray investigation

At the time, Simpson was threatening a lawsuit, but his attorney declined to pursue the case and withdrew representation.

The Seattle Times reported the use of the surplus campaign funds on Thursday in a story about sexual-abuse allegations that have been leveled against Murray by Simpson and two other men, one of whom has filed a lawsuit.

Murray has denied the allegations and says he’s continuing to do his job and seek re-election this fall.

While Clifford’s PDC complaint is mooted by the statute of limitations, Fielding Lopez said it’s not clear whether Murray’s payments in 2008 would have violated state law.

Many state lawmakers in Washington face only token re-election opponents, allowing them to amass large campaign surpluses.

Under state law, that money can be transferred to a political party, saved for future elections, refunded to contributors, used to reimburse candidates for lost wages or donated to charity.

Surplus funds also can be used for “non-reimbursed public office-related expenses.” That’s the category that Murray’s 2008 spending might fall under, Fielding Lopez said.

Murray himself has used surplus funds to pay for travel, office equipment and cellphone bills over the years, records show.

In the case of hiring a lawyer in 2008, Fielding Lopez said the question would be whether the allegations against him were because he was a public official.

“It’s actually quite an interesting question. I don’t know if I can say with absolute certainty, ‘Yes you can do this, no you can’t,’ ” she said.

Specifically in 2008, Murray hired a Portland attorney, Katherine Heekin, who attacked the credibility of Simpson and another accuser, citing their lengthy criminal records.

Murray paid Heekin more than $10,700 from his surplus campaign funds, according to PDC reports. An additional $8,000 went to a private investigation firm.

Murray also reimbursed himself $5,000 at about the same time for “legal research.”