Washington Ethics Board Fines Democratic State Lawmaker Over Photo Supporting Planned Parenthood

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OLYMPIA — Washington state Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Auburn, has agreed to pay a $100 penalty after an ethics investigation over the use of a photo on the Senate Democratic website that depicted her speaking in front of a lectern adorned with an "I stand with Planned Parenthood" banner.

That photo had been taken by a legislative staffer during a rally, according to an opinion by the state Legislative Ethics Board. Wilson had no role in choosing the photo, which was posted online by Senate Democratic staffers.

But state law prohibits the use of property under a lawmaker's control or direction for the private benefit of a lawmaker, employee, or another person or entity.

"This photo is a violation ... because it clearly promotes Planned Parenthood contrary to the statute which prohibits the use of public resources for the gain of another," according to the opinion released Tuesday.

Legislative staffers, who had placed the photo on the Senate Democratic Caucus website, thought the photo was acceptable to use, according to the opinion.

In an email, Aaron Wasser, spokesperson for the Senate Democrats, took the blame.

"It's my job — not Sen. Wilson's — to make sure photos meet ethics standards, and I have long operated under the assumption that because we are the only work group with access to [the legislative] photos they were automatically OK for use on legislative platforms," wrote Wasser in an email. "That's apparently not the case, so I will change my practices to abide by this new information."

In addition to fining Wilson, the board also directed Senate Democratic communications staffers to undergo a refresher in ethics training.

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