Now that charges have been filed against Michael King, the former executive director of the local Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, for allegedly embezzling as much $300,000, the heat is back on former SDCC co-chair, state Sen. and mayoral candidate Ed Murray (D-43, Capitol Hill).
Most of the money was allegedly stolen during a campaign season, by the way, when the Democrats lost a extremely close election in Vancouver and subsequently lost control of the state senate.
Murray was one of three co-chairs of the SDCC along with Sens. David Frockt (D-46, N. Seattle) and Sharon Nelson (D-34, Vashon) during the pivotal election, and the scandal, first reported by PubliCola back in February, has raised questions about Murray's leadership.
A few weeks ago, When Murray emerged as the frontrunner after the crowded primary, we asked him about his responsibility for the fiasco (to be fair, King has admitted to a gambling and drinking problem and deceived several people.) In a frankly pretty startling interview with us, Murray blamed the previous longtime SDCC chair (now U.S. Rep. then state senator) Derek Kilmer, along with the SDCC's then-treasurer, Argo Strategies political consultant Jason Bennett.
Treasurer Bennett, who has told PubliCola that King is "the one person to blame," has maintained all along that he [Bennett] was not a CFO, but simply a compliance director who turned reports in to campaign finance agencies, pointing out that his contract says his client—in this case the SDCC—was responsible for the accuracy of the original reports. Today, the SDCC's lawyer, Pacifica Law Group's Paul Lawrence, challenged Bennett's claim, saying the treasurer's role is more comprehensive, insisting that the Democrats didn't hire him "just to be a scrivener."
Murray, while not as direct as he was earlier this month in evading responsibility, stuck to a similar line during a 30-minute conference call with a crew of local reporters today, alluding to Kilmer for hiring King and alluding to Bennett for giving King check-writing authority. (During today's call, reporters challenged the notion that campaign committee directors don't typically have check-writing authority.)
Asked if the buck stops with him, Murray said:
I have the responsibility for the last few months that I was part of SDCC and wish that somehow we had caught it, but we eventually did because an outside party was able to let us know. But you know, does it reflect on me as far as hiring him or giving him authority? No. I think that people are trying to collapse on this into the mayor's race and I just don't think it holds up. The mayor hired someone who had a criminal record. [and then a bit incongruously]But that's not the issues that I'm going to talk about in this campaign it's how you act.
In fact, Murray eventually wound his way back to sully his opponent, incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn, with the story. Asked if McGinn was going to make an issue out of the King scandal, Murray said:
He already is, and I feel that when myself and my two colleagues [Sens. Frockt and Nelson] came into the situation in the summer when we found out about it, we did what leaders should do, we went to the authorities. We had it investigated. These things happen, and you've got to act. I'm sure he'll make it an issue, but now I also understand that the people who hired Michael King hired him on the recommendation of a business partner who is the mayor's consultant.
Murray is referring to McGinn campaign consultant John Wyble, King's former business partner at WinPower Strategies.
I asked Wyble to respond to Murray's sweeping insinuation. Wyble said King ran the 2008 coordinated state campaign for the Democrats (after running Clark County's coordinated campaign for the Democrats in 2006). He also noted that King, when he worked with Wyble, consulted for Sen. Frockt himself. "That's why he had the qualifications to be the head of the SDCC. It's not like he only worked for me and suddenly I said, 'Hey, I have an idea...'."
Wyble, who's currently consutling for state Sen. Nathan Schlicher, D-Gig Harbor, in another race where the senate is on the line, concluded: "We all should have been watching him, including me."