Investigating Carlson

Did another Republican misuse leftover campaign funds?

This week, Seattle Weekly has learned, the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) opened a preliminary review into the use of campaign funds left over from the failed gubernatorial campaign of Seattle radio talk-show host John Carlson. A PDC spokesperson says the state is "assessing the allegations" made by one of Carlson's fellow Republicans, former attorney general candidate Richard L. Pope.

A Shoreline attorney, Pope claims Carlson wrongly spent donations from his unsuccessful run against Democratic Gov. Gary Locke. The spending includes assorted restaurant tabs and more than $30,000 Carlson paid his wife in consulting fees since the November 2000 election.

The ex-candidate began paying his wife consulting fees on the day of the election, Nov. 5, 2000, giving her two payments of $4,109.73 each on that date. She received $5,400 the following month and $1,500 a month thereafter. She received the final payment, $1,500, last October. Carlson says wife Lisa Carlson was likely under-compensated for the time spent overseeing the election mop-up and paying bills.

According to PDC figures from the campaign fund, which remains an open account on the PDC books, Carlson drew $2.8 million in donations. Around $101,000 was left after the election. He has since spent or donated about $73,000, leaving $28,000 in the bank as of this week.

"This is not another Tim Eyman case," Carlson says, referring to initiative king Eyman, who is facing PDC charges for failing to report the use of campaign donations intermingled in various bank accounts that he and his wife spent on personal and household items. "Unlike him, every expense is legitimate, above board, and fully reported."

Generally, campaign accounts are closed, or the money is donated or transferred elsewhere within several months of an election; others are left open and designated as accounts for a new run at political office, as required by law. Carlson has not announced his political intentions and this week indicated he did not yet have any. He would likely have to leave his conservative talk-show job if he became a declared candidate.

Carlson says Pope may be politically motivated. Pope likely holds a grudge, Carlson says, because Carlson endorsed Democratic Attorney General Christine Gregoire over Pope for re-election in 2000. (Pope's irate campaign manager called it "a conspiracy" and said, "This isn't finished!" before stomping out, Carlson says.)

Others have quietly raised questions about his post-campaign spending, Carlson revealed, including most recently reporters from Seattle and Tacoma daily newspapers. But after checking with the PDC, they opted not to write about the issue, he says.

However, there was apparently no official complaint for the PDC to consider until Pope filed his claim on Monday, June 17. In his letter to Phil Stutzman, the PDC's director of compliance, Pope says, "It would appear the vast majority of the $73,614.87 in payments other than charitable donations made by Mr. Carlson from his surplus campaign funds after November 30, 2000, were in violation [of state law]."

Much of the spending, including the money paid Carlson's wife, Pope says, is "probably not at all connected with Mr. Carlson's 2000 election campaign. . . . [He] is using these surplus campaign funds in many cases for evidently new expenditures. . . . "

A twice-failed attorney general candidate who last year lost his bid for the Seattle Port Commission, Pope says that if Carlson had filed to run for governor again in 2004, "it would probably have been legal for him to spend his money this way—assuming, of course, his wife was doing legitimate work and there was a reason for all those restaurant meals and so on.

"But if he'd done that, all of those afternoon commuters would have been deprived of the opportunity to hear him on KVI, since there is some FCC rule about political candidates having radio shows."

Retorts Carlson: "You can tell a lot about the quality of a complaint by the people who file them."

PDC spokesperson Doug Ellis says they're reviewing Pope's claims "to determine if they have merit and warrant a full investigation." The outcome could lead to a dismissal of the complaint or result in a full investigation.

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