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Washington State Executive Ethics Board Fails Washingtonians. Twice

Bellevue—In recent weeks, the Washington State Executive Ethics Board has failed Washingtonians. Twice. The Washington State Republican Party (WAGOP) believes these failures to hold high-ranking state officials accountable is the unfortunate, but predictable, outcome of years of one-party rule in Olympia.

One of the Executive Ethics Board’s failures involves the “Fishy Fergie Checks” scheme. This scheme purports to send low-income households money from a $40 million settlement in a price-fixing lawsuit against companies that sell canned tuna fish and chicken. In fact, the scheme appears to be more about building name recognition for WA Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s campaign for governor. Ferguson splashed his name all over the settlement checks and accompanying letters.

The scheme has failed on its own terms, with wealthy households and many dead people receiving the “Fishy” checks.

Toby Nixon, a government-reform activist in Washington, filed an ethics complaint against Ferguson for using state resources to support his campaign for higher office. The Executive Ethics Board allowed Nixon to press his complaint with the Washington State Auditor, who defended Ferguson’s scheme in a weakly-worded letter dated January 3, 2024.

This wasn’t the end of the scandal, though. When KIRO Radio’s Heather Bosch asked Ferguson about the rich people and dead people who were receiving “Fishy Fergie Checks,” the State AG nervously tried to shift blame: “We worked with Experian, so it’s not our list. We went to a data broker or somebody who would have, what we believed, to be as reliable a list as can exist for sending out 400,000 checks to Washingtonians.”

In Harry Truman’s day, Democrats took responsibility for their actions. Truman famously said: “The buck stops here.” In Bob Ferguson’s day, Democrats whine: “It’s not our list.”

“Bob Ferguson’s cynicism and shiftiness may explain why his unfavorable poll numbers are high among voters in Washington’s swing districts,” says WAGOP Chairman Jim Walsh, who pre-filed HB 2183 to stop Attorney General and other elected officials from being able to pull a similar campaign stunt, following a lawsuit.

On a separate matter, in November of 2023, the WAGOP filed a complaint with the Washington State Executive Ethics Board against WA Secretary of State Steve Hobbs for using taxpayer money to surveil critics (for the purpose of suppressing dissent), which is a violation of the Washington State Constitution and ethics rules. The full complaint can be read here.

Again, the ethics board, tasked with enforcing the state’s Ethics in Public Service Act, failed to do its job. It declined to investigate Hobbs for using taxpayer money to hire a UK-based cyber-security company called Logically to surveil critics and political opponents.

Under the no-bid contract with the UK-based company, speech objectionable to Hobbs is “fact-checked,” reported as a “threat,” and suppressed. Even The Seattle Times editorial board grudgingly acknowledged that questions about election integrity in Washington are legitimate. Hobbs’ attempts at censorship—contracted out to a foreign corporation—is exactly the kind of behavior Washington’s ethics laws are supposed to prevent.

“Steve Hobbs’ no-bid contract with this British corporation is a violation of state laws and ethical rules on the use of public resources,” says WAGOP Chairman Walsh. “More importantly, it is an intimidation tactic to chill free speech and what the Washington State Constitution calls ‘freedom of conscience.’”

There is no right more essential to democracy than free speech—which is under attack from Democrats in Washington. The state’s Executive Ethics Board needs to do more, and more effectively, to protect the people of Washington.