Last February, PubliCola broke the news that the executive director of the state Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, Michael King, had allegedly stolen thousands of dollars from the Democrats.
One of the three co-chairs of the SDCC at the time of King's apparent scam—King was allegedly filing false receipts for "polling"—was state Sen. Ed Murray, D-43, Capitol Hill. (Sens. Sharon Nelson, D-34, W. Seattle and David Frockt, D-46, N. Seattle, were the other chairs.)
Murray, of course, has since made it through to the November general election for mayor and his position as co-chair during the King scandal is likely to become a campaign issue when King County makes its charging decision as soon as this month.
The SDCC turned the case over to the King County Prosecutor and SPD in March, and the prosecutor's office tells PubliCola they are still investigating. Sources tell us that the thousands of dollars King is suspected of stealing has climbed to nearly $250,000.
As we noted at the time, the evidently stolen money took on extra importance for the Democrats because they had been locked in a senate-shifting race in Vancouver, which they lost. They are currently locked in a similar battle in the 26th District where Republican Rep. Jan Angel, Port Orchard, is challenging state Sen. Nathan Schlicher, D-26, Gig Harbor. King's replacement at the re-named Washington Senate Democratic Campaign, Adam Bartz, told PubliCola: "We were starting from scratch." The Republican committee has outspent the Democrats in that race $50,000 to $30,000 so far.
The other story here, though, is Murray. If he wants to be the city's chief executive, he needs to answer questions about the apparent malfeasance that took place while he was a co-chair of the SDCC.
"I didn’t know about it, because I wasn’t the bookkeeper of this thing."—Ed Murray
Murray says he's not to blame. He says he "inherited" the problem from his predecessors co-chairing the committee (former state senators Lisa Brown, Derek Kilmer, and Scott White) and the SDCC's former treasurer.
"I didn’t have supervisory responsibility for the guy [King]," Murray tells me. "First of all, I didn’t hire him, I did not supervise him, the activity went on for two years. The person you should be calling is [now U.S.-Rep.] Derek Kilmer. Derek Kilmer is the person who supervised him for two years. Derek Kilmer hired him. We can clearly see the first signs of this happening within the first week he was hired.
"We inherited a person who was hired and [we inherited] controls that were put in place, and we followed those controls. And the compliance person, the person who is supposed to be checking this stuff, the treasurer, is the person—so in other words, legislators on campaign committees are not oversight people over books."
The current sole chair of the committee, Sen. Nelson (Murray and Frockt are no longer co-chairs) seconds Murray's take—explaining that the "historic model" they inherited relied on an executive director who had direct oversight of daily operations [King] and an outside treasurer. She says the role of senators was to raise money—"make the [fundraising] phone calls." (She has since added a mentoring role, where veteran senators work with freshman and candidates.)
Murray says during the election season of 2012 he "jumped in to help [the] SDCC part time" when Brown announced she wasn't running for reelection and Kilmer left for Congress. "I split my time between that and R-74 [the marriage initiative]," he says.
"I’m not trying to dump on Derek, so I don’t want to be quoted as dumping on Derek, but for two years, the supervisor, the person who interviewed and hired this person, and who supervised this person, were two other legislators [Kilmer and White] and the person who led the caucus [Brown] and approved that hiring was not me. "
U.S. Rep. Kilmer's spokesman Stephen Carter says Kilmer did his due diligence as part of the hiring committee including checking references. (In an interesting twist, King previously worked for John Wyble, who is Murray rival Mayor Mike McGinn's current campaign consultant.)
As for "controls" being in place, Carter said "that's true, if you mean there was a 'compliance officer.'" He added: "It's not fair to blame anyone except Michael King."
The former treasurer and compliance officer for the Democrats, Jason Bennett, seconded Carter: "There's one person to blame in all this and that's Michael King."
Bennett's contract makes it clear he was not expected to play the role of auditor or CFO for the SDCC, but was simply supposed to file the Democrats' reports with the proper campaign finance agencies and the IRS. Bennett's sample contract language states: "Client [in this instance, the Democrats—Eds.] will be responsible for the accuracy of all data submitted to the database; consultant will be responsible for the accuracy of the data as it is presented to governmental reporting and compliance agencies."
Murray contends that once the problem was brought to his attention (Bennett alerted the co-chairs), that he acted quickly.
"We stepped in and we cleaned it up," Murray says. "My response when I found out, and Sharon’s response, and David Frockt's, was 'we’re turning it over to the authorities.'"
Murray also says, he and Nelson and Frockt made changes to the SDCC: "We wrote bylaws, we brought in different treasurers for different accounts, we put in fail-safe mechanisms that no one else had ever done in the Senate Democratic Campaign history. Under Derek [Kilmer], Scott White and Lisa [Brown], someone gave this guy [King] check-writing authority. I didn’t do that, and quite honestly, I didn’t know about it, because again, I wasn’t the bookkeeper of this thing."
Sen. Nelson tells PubliCola that they've hired two treasurers and have assigned one member of the Democratic caucus (Sen. Mark Mullett, D-5, Issaquah) to oversee the treasurers.
Murray says he"absolutely" hopes the King County Prosecutor presses charges.