Citizens for Judicial Excellence (CJE), a political action committee funded almost entirely by DUI attorneys, allegedly broke state rules by coordinating with the campaign for Ed McKenna, who is running for the Seattle Municipal Court, according to a complaint filed Saturday with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC). The group recruited candidates, coordinated with their campaigns, promised financial support, and provided campaign assistance without reporting the expenditures, the complaint says (.pdf).
"If any of that is true, CJE and Ed Mkenna have crossed a bright line of what is supposed to be separation of his campaign and CJE," says James Tupper, an attorney who supports MkKenna's challenger, incumbent Judge Edsonya Charles. The Washington Administrative Code prohibits independent expenditure campaigns from coordinating their efforts with candidates. Tupper says he filed allegations because he wants an investigation.
"There should be not be coordinating whatsoever between the drunk drivers attorney's PAC and Ed McKenna's campaign," Tupper says. "I understand that... the drunk drivers' bar actively recruited McKenna to run against Edsonya and promised funding that would otherwise not be available. I also understand that the paid consultant for the PAC had met repeatedly with McKenna's campaign."
His evidence, according to the PDC filing:
Ed McKenna admitted at an editorial board meeting for The Stranger on September 23, 2010 that he has had contact with Mary Ann Ottinger since he filed for a position on the Seattle Municipal Court. Ms. Ottinger is a paid consult to CJE. On or about June 10, 2010 Ed McKenna admitted to Judge Fred Bonner of Seattle Municipal Court that he was recruited by CJE to withdraw a candidate filing and re-file against an incumbent judge that CJE has targeted. In the conversation with Judge Boner (sic) Ed McKenna reportedly represented that CJE promised substantial financial support if he re-filed in the municipal court election.
Since The Stranger is mentioned here, I went back and pulled up my notes on our endorsement meeting last week with Charles and McKenna. Here's the relevant part:
DH: Have you sat down with Mary Ann Ottinger, the CJE's consultant, since you filed to run?
McKenna: Yes, probably once. But I assure you there has not been any coordination of campaign expenditures.
DH: Have there been phone conversations with the group?
McKenna: There has been. Talking on the phone does not mean strategic coordination. I have no idea what CJE has planned.
DH: Judge Charles, have you talked to CJE?
Charles: I have never met with CJE.
McKenna also said the group has given his campaign a binder that describes where to seek endorsements, the rules for running a judicial campaign, and other information about how to run a campaign. He says met with CJE to obtain the group's endorsement.
CJE had $198,000 in cash on hand as of September 25, according to filings with the PDC, and Tupper writes in his filing, "I understand that CJE intends to make additional independent expenditures."
Given that the group's money comes almost exclusively from attorneys who represent DUI cases, speculation has been rampant that the group is targeting judges who are tough on DUI cases. The group absolutely denies that allegation.
I called CJE spokeswoman Patricia Fulton, who didn't know a complaint had been filed, and she intends to comment after reviewing it. I also have a call in to Judge Bonner to see if he confirms the allegation about his conversation with McKenna. I'll update this post when I get more info.