The McKenna Files
Archived Documents Suggest That Washington's Republican Candidate for Governor May Have Misused His Office at the King County Council
As state attorney general, Rob McKenna has cultivated an image as a careful, squeaky-clean good-government type. But you wouldn't know it from rummaging through three large boxes sitting in the King County Archives and available for public inspection. Marked "Documents: Rob McKenna," these boxes are packed full of papers from McKenna's days on the King County Council (where he served from 1996 through 2004), and many of those papers involve not county business but election campaign business.
That type of activity—the relevant state law describes it as "assisting a campaign for election of any person"—is flatly prohibited inside Washington State government offices.
A lot of the papers in McKenna's county office archives are what you'd expect: folders labeled "Critical Areas Ordinance," "Bus Rapid Transit," and "Constituent Communications 'Completed,'" for example. But there are also hundreds of pages of campaign- related documents that shouldn't be there—fundraising lists, a list of potential table captains for McKenna's 2003 reelection campaign kickoff breakfast, supporter seating charts, a draft campaign speech, a note that at that 2003 campaign kickoff breakfast, "as Rob comes to stage, Bruce Springsteen's 'Born in the USA' plays." In sum, these and other documents strongly suggest that there was a risky disregard for the state prohibition on using government resources for campaign purposes inside McKenna's office.
"Everybody did a little campaigning out of their office," said one former council staffer, a Democrat who insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisal against his current employer. "But nobody did it like McKenna."
Allegedly, according to this former staffer, McKenna and his staff were frequently overheard making campaign calls from county phones and were constantly leaving fundraising lists and other campaign materials in the council printers and fax machines.
Charles McCray III, communications director for McKenna's gubernatorial campaign, told The Stranger: "Rob McKenna conducts his political campaign activities outside of his public offices."
That's the present-tense answer. Asked whether Rob McKenna has always conducted his political campaign activities outside of his public offices in the past, McCray did not respond.
The Stranger also presented McCray with photographs and PDF files of the campaign-related documents found in McKenna's county council archives. "You have some old folders, but nothing that indicates campaign activities took place on county time," McCray responded via e-mail. "It appears the only inappropriate act here was misfiling."
Asked how the files could have gotten into McKenna's office in the first place, McCray appeared to blame staff members: "Everyone on Mr. McKenna's staff is allowed to have outside interests, including political ones, so accidentally misfiling a couple folders does not constitute a conspiracy."
One folder alone contains about 150 pages of fundraising lists, with one list tabbed "John Carlson 'Prospects'" and containing names, addresses, and dollar amounts from contributors to the Republican candidate's unsuccessful 2000 gubernatorial run. The same folder also includes a 56-page document titled "McKenna F/R List Alpha," containing entries for 998 McKenna campaign contributors between January 1 and June 19, 2003. Also in the folder: Carlson's entire gubernatorial campaign plan, including budget, organizational charts, and polling analyses—a useful document to study if, say, you were considering your own Republican gubernatorial run.
Another folder, appropriately labeled "McKenna Campaign Materials," is stuffed with fundraising envelopes and campaign flyers from McKenna's successful 2004 run for attorney general. Other documents include a canceled check from McKenna's campaign committee, "Friends of Rob McKenna," and a Hyatt Regency Bellevue invoice to the committee.
And it's not just McKenna's own campaign materials that pop up. Also among McKenna's archived documents is a folder labeled "Luke Esser for Senate materials," containing multiple copies of invitations to Esser's 2002 state senate campaign kickoff fundraiser, plus a letter thanking McKenna staffer Hunter Goodman for serving as a table captain.
Esser was a paid member of McKenna's council staff at the time, as was Chris Johnson, who with Goodman played crucial roles in McKenna's 2004 campaign for attorney general (all the while working on the county payroll). And all three landed jobs in McKenna's attorney general office after his win. "The cheapest way to run a campaign is to hire people paid by the taxpayer," explains our anonymous source. "And nobody else on the council did it like McKenna."
Washington State Democratic Party chair Dwight Pelz, who served on the council with McKenna, says he remembers finding McKenna campaign documents in the council printers and says these activities were common knowledge at the time. And while Pelz wouldn't speak to the actions of his other colleagues, he insists McKenna should have held himself to a higher standard. "If you're running for AG—for top cop—it's a little different than running for reelection to the council," says Pelz.
In fact, other council members were routinely held to the state standards. In 1999, county council member Larry Phillips found himself the subject of a Public Disclosure Commission investigation after a staffer used a county fax machine to transmit a campaign document to the PDC itself. His punishment: a $50 fine. "That shouldn't happen," Phillips said of his violation. "We have to be responsible for it." More recently, Snohomish County executive Aaron Reardon has found himself in the middle of a much bigger, career-threatening scandal that partially involves allegations that he campaigned using public facilities and public time.
The only bright spot for McKenna when it comes to those archived campaign documents: the five-year statute of limitations on his alleged violations has long since passed.