OLYMPIA — A left-leaning political-advocacy group’s meetings scheduled at the Capitol campus this year ran afoul of a law barring the use of legislative facilities for campaign-related activity, according to the state Legislative Ethics Board.
The board Monday released a pair of opinions in response to complaints that staffers for Democratic Sens. Sam Hunt of Olympia and Claire Wilson of Auburn booked meeting space during the legislative session for Emerge Washington.
Emerge Washington is an organization that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office; Wilson is one of its prior participants.
Neither Hunt nor Wilson knew that their staff members had booked the meetings at the time that they were scheduled, according to the opinions.
The board imposed a civil penalty of $1,000 against Hunt, whose staffer booked a pair of Emerge Washington meetings in a legislative building in February. Of that, $500 is suspended, provided Hunt doesn’t break ethics laws in the next five years, according to the opinion.
Hunt said that legislative offices often schedule events for constituents or groups, often without knowing the specific purpose.
“I’ve been around long enough, I know we don’t do campaigns on state property,” said Hunt, adding later: “If I had inkling of that … we’d have told them ‘sorry.’ “
The meetings scheduled by Hunt’s office took place Feb. 23 and Feb. 24, according to the board opinion. They included discussions with participants — including a handful of active candidates — about how to use social media and how to deal with media organizations.
In an email Monday, Karen Besserman, executive director for Emerge Washington, wrote, “As a fairly new organization we are always learning. We fully understand now the laws and will not be doing anything on the Capitol campus in the future other than visiting our legislators …”
The board dismissed the complaint against Wilson because the Feb. 25 meeting scheduled by her staffer was canceled shortly before it occurred.
The board also dismissed an allegation that Wilson somehow acted improperly for mentioning Emerge Washington while speaking on the Senate floor Feb. 25, before that meeting was to have been held.
After learning about the Emerge Washington meetings, Secretary of the Senate Brad Hendrickson directed a review of scheduled meetings.
That led to the cancellation of reservations for meetings by the groups Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, WA Coalition for Abolishing the Death Penalty, and Cascade Government Affairs Group, according to Hendrickson.
Those groups were potentially violating meeting-room guidelines by advocating against or for specific legislation, Hendrickson wrote in an email.
Senate staff have since been given additional training about making room reservations, Hendrickson wrote, and more will take place before the 2020 session begins in January.