While county officials prepare to certify election results Tuesday, the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) continues to investigate complaints it received throughout the election cycle and is still receiving.
Statewide, hundreds of complaints have been received over the past year, and six of them still under investigation revolve around candidates here in Lewis and Thurston Counties.
Here’s a roundup of potential violations still unresolved as of Monday:
PUD Commissioner Candidate Mike Hadaller
Lewis County PUD District #3 Commissioner candidate Mike Hadaller, who appears to have defeated opponent Kevin Emerson, had a complaint filed against him on Oct. 24.
The allegations claim Hadaller exceeded mini reporting campaign finance limitations, failed to update and register his campaign for full reporting on campaign finances and failed to timely and accurately report campaign contributions and expenditures. The complaint also included receipts from local agencies, including The Chronicle, showing just how much Hadaller had been spending.
If a candidate chooses mini reporting they are not to exceed a $5,000 limit for campaign expenditures. Should a candidate choose mini reporting, they are also not required by state law to submit C3 or C4 campaign finance reports to the PDC.
C3 reports are for tracking bank deposits and are to be completed weekly while C4s are snapshots of the campaign’s total finances at the given time. C4 reports need to be submitted on the 10th of each month and seven days before the election in which the campaign is in takes place and the 10th of the first month after the election, according to the PDC’s website, https://www.pdc.wa.gov/registration-reporting/forms-reports-directory.
The complaint alleges he has spent more than double that amount on campaign advertising and hasn’t been filing C3 or C4 forms. The PDC’s deadline for changing from mini to full reporting was Aug. 3, according to the PDC website.
Hadaller told The Chronicle he has been in contact with the PDC and is in the process of properly reporting his campaign’s finances with an accountant and as of Oct. 28 was in the process of submitting campaign financial reports.
“I’m getting it all reported. I’m about two minutes away from the accountant’s office right now with the last of the paperwork and it will all be reported today,” Hadaller said last month.
His campaign sent an official response to the PDC’s complaint in which it stated Hadaller thought that mini reporting would have been sufficient.
“This is our first experience doing this and (we) were unaware of how involved it is in relation to the cost expenditures that were incurred. Mike was quite sure that the $5,000 would be more than sufficient in the beginning,” read an excerpt from the Oct. 26 email.
The complaint, along with Hadaller’s response, can be viewed online at https://www.pdc.wa.gov/rules-enforcement/enforcement/enforcement-cases/113464.
Hadaller’s campaign finance reporting data can be found at https://www.pdc.wa.gov/political-disclosure-reporting-data/browse-search-data/candidates/634606.
As far as the election results go, Hadaller is currently leading his opponent, Kevin Emerson, in the vote count with 53.06% of the vote to Emerson’s 46.35% as of the morning of Nov. 28.
Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza
While two complaints filed against incumbent Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza concerning his campaign’s finances have been closed with written warnings, one complaint remains that was filed on Oct. 20.
It alleged that Snaza authorized the misuse of a public agency by starting an internal agency investigation against the candidate running against him for Thurston County sheriff, Derek Sanders.
Sanders currently serves under John Snaza in the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO). In an Oct. 24 letter to the PDC, he addressed the allegations directly.
“In July 2022, an allegation of a policy violation was brought forth by members of the TCSO against Deputy Derek Sanders. Deputy Sanders is an employee of TCSO and is subject to the policies of TCSO that are a condition of his employment. This allegation was brought forth by members of his own bargaining unit and was not brought forth by the administration. This internal investigation was handled in complete accordance with TCSO policy and procedures. At no time did I have influence or involvement in this investigation, and this was not done for political gain. The investigation was handled by Sgt. Casebolt of our Office of Professional Standards who reports directly to Undersheriff Brady. The allegations brought forth by Ms. Genson in this PDC complaint are not accurate or factual and no TCSO resources were used for my political campaign,” said John Snaza.
The complaint, along with John Snaza’s response, can be viewed online at https://www.pdc.wa.gov/rules-enforcement/enforcement/enforcement-cases/113372.
John Snaza’s campaign was contacted by The Chronicle for additional comments but no response was given.
Currently, he is trailing his challenger, Sanders, in the vote count with 44.21% of the vote to Sanders’ 55.28% as of the morning of Nov. 28.
Lewis County Assessor Candidate Tom Crowson
Back in Lewis County, another candidate who has a complaint filed against them is Tom Crowson, who ran for Lewis County assessor.
Filed on Sept. 27, the complaint alleges Crowson committed campaigning violations by using a public office and agency facilities to both assist his own campaign and promote a ballot proposition.
Crowson reached out to The Chronicle to address the allegations.
The first incident occurred when Crowson approached Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope at the Lewis County Courthouse asking him for a campaign endorsement, according to the PDC complaint. Crowson claimed that never happened on county property, but instead at Bethel Church.
“I would say ‘hello’ to him in the county administration building but I’m well aware of what you’re supposed to do and not supposed to do. I did ask for his endorsement, but it was not in the county admin building” Crowson said.
The other allegation revolved around an incident following the end of a Board of Equalization meeting where Crowson allegedly advocated for gathering signatures in support of a ballot initiative affecting property taxes. The Board of Equalization hears appeals on property assessments and Crowson was on it.
“I was the chairman of the Board of Equalization and a lot of times when we would rule against the assessor’s office they would take it personally and 99% of the time send the case to state and state has a backup of almost three years so we would see the same appellant for one, two, maybe even three years in a row,” said Crowson.
One such appellant was at a board meeting where Crowson’s opponent, Ross Nielson, was also present. According to Crowson, the appellant, an elderly woman, stayed after the meeting to talk to the board members as she was worried about not being able to pay property taxes if they kept increasing. She did not qualify for the senior exemption.
Crowson claimed all he did was inform the woman of the initiative’s existence.
“I mentioned to her asking if she knew about the initiative. I think I told her it was I-509 but it’s actually I-1509. I didn’t ask her to sign anything. I had a copy of the initiative in my briefcase and I didn’t take it out and say ‘you need to sign this because it will be helpful and good for you.’ I just made her aware of it,” Crowson said.
“At the same time the assessor’s office was there and they were remarking on it too,” he added.
I-1509 is an act that if passed would exempt a portion of the valuation of real property from property taxation. It can be read online at https://www.sos.wa.gov/_assets/elections/initiatives/finaltext_2690.pdf.
Crowson added he believed both allegations in the complaint were only made to damage his campaign, as Nielson was also present at the Board of Equalization meeting.
The complaint, along with an additional written response from Crowson, can be viewed online here, https://www.pdc.wa.gov/rules-enforcement/enforcement/enforcement-cases/112611.
Crowson is currently trailing his opponent, Nielson, in the vote count with 45.74% of the vote to Nielson’s 52.72% as of the morning of Nov. 28.
Tracy Murphy, Harry Bagwandin and Mike Hadaller complaints
Just over a week after the election on Nov. 16, three complaints were filed based on Lewis County News coverage of sheriff candidate Tracy Murphy, county commissioner candidate Harry O. Bhagwandin and PUD District #3 commissioner candidate Mike Hadaller.
Elizabeth Rohr, a Lewis County Public Health and Social Services Advisory Board member, believed that both articles and letters to the editor published in Lewis County News showed bias toward certain candidates in the three races covered by the complaints. In Rohr’s letter to the PDC, she called for transparency in the paper’s funding.
“Articles and letters to the editor show a pattern of promoting selected candidates for public office, Mike Hadaller, Tracy Murphy and Harry Bhagwandin, without disclosure of who paid for the articles and advertisements, and through mass communication promotes people to vote only for these candidates. Opposing candidates and their events are not published,” said Rohr. “Public trust in journalism is violated because we don't know what political committees or sponsors are paying or asking for these articles and ads.”
So far, Lewis County News has yet to respond to the PDC complaints. Murphy’s complaint can be found at, https://www.pdc.wa.gov/rules-enforcement/enforcement/enforcement-cases/114226, Hadaller’s at https://www.pdc.wa.gov/rules-enforcement/enforcement/enforcement-cases/114224 and Bhagwandin’s at https://www.pdc.wa.gov/rules-enforcement/enforcement/enforcement-cases/114223.
Hadaller is ahead of his opponent in the vote count, but both Murphy and Bhagwandin currently trail with Murphy losing to incumbent Sheriff Rob Snaza with 45.87% of the vote to Rob Snaza’s 53.39%. Bhagwandin trails his opponent, Scott Brummer, 40.32% to 58.66%.
In Thurston County, Travis Couture, candidate for 35th District representative, and incumbent Thurston County Assessor Steven Drew both have PDC complaints open against them that are still under investigation.
All complaints mentioned in this story are still under PDC investigation. The full list of PDC complaints for candidates statewide this election can be viewed online at https://www.pdc.wa.gov/rules-enforcement/enforcement/enforcement-cases.
It should be noted that this list includes both open investigations as well as closed cases dating all the way back to 2015. This article is only focused on the ones still in the assessment of facts phase.