About Those 26th District Campaign Ads

From the start of the 2010 campaign season, Doug Richards, candidate for 26th District Representative, position 2, has been a lightning rod for questions about his public and private life.

Perhaps it’s a reflection of his viability as a candidate. His opponent Larry Seaquist, in a recent interview, said, “The first day we got his name and looked at his bio, we said to our campaign team, this is the most serious opponent we’ve had.”

The questions about Richards have not emanated directly from Seaquist or his campaign, but inevitably, they reflected on the campaign. And Seaquist has had to answer prying questions from the opposing camp.

With just a week to go until the election, I thought I’d take a whack at sifting assertions from fact. I’m going to give Richards a chance to address more recent questions surrounding his campaign filings with the state Public Disclosure Commission, his voting record and tax payment history. Speaking of taxes, I’ll also give his Seaquist a chance to more fully explain a federal tax lien filed against him Jan. 21, 2009, with the Pierce County auditor.

Questions about Richards’ voting record were raised in campaign fliers produced by the Washington State Democratic Central Committee and in a related television ad.

The TV ad, which I haven’t seen, was described to me by a co-worker and by Richards himself. The ad and the flier claim Richards has failed to vote in 41 of the last 55 elections, including “7 local fire, rescue and medical or 911 measures (even though he is a firefighter himself!).”

The flier and the ad show a picture of Richards in a suit and pink bow tie, holding a cigar. The picture, Richards told me, is from his Facebook. It was taken at the opening of a friend’s cigar shop in Seattle, he said. And if you could see the big picture, you’d see him with his wife dressed up in 1930s-style garb, which was part of the fun at the event. The impression the cropped picture gives, however, is of a shady character.

On the voting record issue, Richards said that, yes, when he was younger he voted only in presidential elections.
“I don’t remember if I voted for every election and off-year elections. I did vote in every presidential campaign,” he said. “I was in my 20s. It wasn’t at the top of my priorities.”

That changed, Richards said, when he became a small business owner in 2000, building and selling custom homes. Then, he said, “I recognized how every vote counted.” And he became more politically active.

Richards said he does not remember every levy issue he did or did not vote on. If he had known he’d be running for public office, he would have kept a list, he joked.

The flier indicates he missed votes on tax- and budget-related measures, including I-960 in November, 2007, requiring a legislative super-majority to raise taxes.

Although the ad and flier don’t come directly from Seaquist’s campaign, Richards said, they show to what degree Seaquist is running scared. “To try to say this is a character issue is a stretch,” Richards said. “As best this is a campaign that’s struggling, that’s grasping at straws.”

According to Richards, the TV ad also claims he has failed to pay his taxes. True, he missed a payment in 2009. But the story behind the claim is a lot less sensational, he said. With the recession, Richards lost an investment property to foreclosure. Since taxes on the property were taken out of monthly payments to the bank, Richards’ account fell into arrears while he and the bank were negotiating on possible remedies to the foreclosure. He received notice in April that the bank had not paid the tax, and he wrote a check to cover it himself. The foreclosure eventually went through, and he lost the property. The experience helps him sympathize with voters who have faced similar challenges with the recession, he said.

Speaking of taxes, Richards added, “I think it’s hypocritical he (Seaquist) attacks me on taxes, considering he failed to pay his taxes for three years.”

Neither Seaquist nor his campaign made the back tax allegations, but by their very design, attack ads corral the opponent of the attacked and make them part of the process. So, Richards’ statement is perhaps understandable, if technically incorrect.

The assertion that Seaquist “failed to pay taxes” for three years makes it sound like he blew off the IRS entirely. In fact, what happened was in 2005, he had an overpayment of about $2,400, which he advised his tax accountant to apply to 2006 taxes. Due to a bookkeeping error, the amount was not properly credited. The error was not discovered by the IRS until 2008, by which time penalties and interest brought the amount owing to $23,532.83. How could this be? Believe it, said Jackie Chowning, the revenue officer who handled the Seaquist lien.

Chowning, speaking in general and not about Seaquist’s case, said errors often take considerable time to be caught by the automated behemoth that is the IRS. In Seaquist’s case, the notice of federal tax lien (not a lien on his home as I mistakenly reported in an earlier story) was filed Jan. 21, 2009. That would be where the “three years” in arrears apparently comes from (2006, when the payment was due to 2009, when the lien was filed).

Seaquist found out about the lien, he said, when his wife checked a savings account they had and found the IRS had withdrawn a sizable amount. From Chowning, he found out that the IRS had placed holds on several other accounts. In October, the IRS acknowledged the $2,400 had been applied to his account, adding it could take up to 120 days for the credit to show up on his account. The lien was cleared The couple paid the outstanding amount and cleared the lien in February, 2009.

The PDC complaint about Richards came to the Kitsap Sun from George Robison of Gig Harbor, a Seaquist supporter who also was part of a group that questioned Richards’ service records. Robison did not identify himself as a Seaquist supporter to the Kitsap Sun or the PDC, with whom he raised the following issues, but his name was familiar from numerous e-mails, comments on stories and blogs, and a display ad the group ran in the Kitsap Sun about the service record issue.

Robison accused Richards of:
“1. Double booking of some expenses as a ‘loan’ and as an ‘in-kind contribution’ by Mr. Richards, leading to the appearance of the potential for being reimbursed twice, after having been repaid for an item that is still carried on the books as a loan. No credit entry has been made for any loan reimbursement even though some reimbursements match loans.

2. Reimbursement to Mr. Richards for many items forbidden by the PDC. This includes political conferences, trainings, memberships in the NRA and Chamber of Commerce, charitable gifts, entertainment and personal food and fuel. In the amended C4 for 9/1, about 56 food and fuel expense items totaled about $1997 or about 25% of total campaign expenditures for that period alone. On some reports he was reimbursed over $150 per day for fuel.

3. Overall, a large number of campaign expenses were reported as ‘repayments’ made directly to Mr. Richards. This raises the appearance of campaign funds being mingled with personal expenses.”

Doug Richards told me his wife Whitney, who is acting as his campaign treasurer, has been working with Chip Beatty, a filer assistance specialist with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission, to be sure the campaign is in compliance with PDC rules and campaign finances laws.

Beatty, who spoke to Whitney Richards on Oct. 19 as a result of Robison’s e-mail, found some merit in one of Robison’s complaints regarding reimbursements for fuel. Whitney Richards had submitted fuel receipts. Beatty advised that did not accurately reflect personal driving as distinct from campaign-related driving. Beatty asked Richards to reimburse his campaign for the personal use. He was directed to keep a mileage log and have the campaign reimburse him for mileage in the future.

Beatty noted that since Oct. 19, the Richards’ have amended the filings in question. “It appears they were very proactive in making the changes I requested right away,” Beatty said.

Richards’ C3 form, documenting income to the campaign, shows $389.60 on Oct. 19 paid by Richards to the campaign “to refund fuel used for personal use.” There’s another refund on Oct. 25 for $188.

Beatty did say that Richards could have been more specific about items like food and beverages. But he said Richards’ requests for cost reimbursements for these items were not out of line. He advised Whitney Richards to be more descriptive. On a receipt for “wine,” for example, she should have stated what is was for (a primary night event). He also suggested that the word “repayment” be replaced with “reimbursement.”

Beatty had no issues with costs related to “political conferences, trainings, memberships in the NRA and Chamber of Commerce, charitable gifts, entertainment and personal food.” It is acceptable, under PDC rules, he said for candidates to join an organization and attend its meetings, likely paying for meals at these events, as part of the process of networking and seeking support.

Voters aren’t required to like or approve of all expenditures that are technically legal. But at least they can go to the PDC, as Robison did, and see for themselves how much was spent on what. And if, like Robison, they aren’t satisfied with the clarity of the reporting, they can contact the PDC and complain. The PDC has the authority to sanction a candidate and their website has this nifty little page where you can track the status of compliance cases. Apparently Richards’ bookkeeping errors did not rise to the level of egregiousness that would earn him a spot on the list.

Chris Henry, reporter

10 thoughts on “About Those 26th District Campaign Ads

  1. With less than a week to go in a vote-by-mail election this article is a bit past due, don’t you think? I’m willing to bet that a significant portion of the Sun’s readership has already voted – certainly the people who bother reading political coverage.

    And the “TV ad, which I haven’t seen, was described to me by…” DOES NOT qualify as journalism! That’s just plain lazy, sloppy, and irresponsible.

    If you can’t take the time to do your job right, please don’t bother trying.

  2. NoSpin, thanks for summing that up rather nicely.

    Voters from both parties are negative on negativity this election cycle apparently more than ever before. Their disgust for everything negative is back lashing against the candidates themselves, their supporters, their political parties and the news media organizations that choose to indulge in it or report on it simply for the sake of reporting on it.

    Educating the community about the PDC what they do and how they police candidates, election reporting and campaign behavior is one thing and is necessary and commendable. The attempted tie in here to what either Mr. Seaquist or Mr. Richards did or did not do correctly within their campaigns or personal lives as examples and who or what they are really responsible for missed that educational relevancy mark by a rather wide margin.

  3. Was watching a documentary recently on Lincoln. I guess when he was in the House of Representatives he had quite the reputation as a being quite negative in his campaign techniques. Actually caused a man to cry once with his tongue lashing. Surprised the heck out of me, Lincoln is one of my heroes in our History and never thought he would be like that. Negative campaigning always appears quite redundant to me.But I guess it helps win elections with more then just a name on a sign.

    The commercial by Sequest tried to make Richards look crafty and dishonorable.Surprised me somewhat beczause I thought Sequest was at least above that himself. I vote in spite of negative campaigning. Have not yet decided not to vote for someone because of their attack ads for or against but I guess they work. Candidates keep using them.

  4. Mick – Note that the flier was paid for by the state Democratic Central Committee, not Seaquist’s campaign. Does that make any difference to you?

    Chris Henry, reporter

  5. When candidates accept large amounts of party money, party support and party favoritism the candidate and the party become one and lines between the candidate as individual and party run committees are fluid, blurred and at time become non-existent during a campaign. One entity does not do or say anything that the other entity has not openly discussed or approved of behind the scene.

    So you ask, how could someone like me possibly know this? Because a candidate that I have been supporting and helping , turned down the Republican Party advice, from some of the highest ranking members of the State Republican Party, that she go after her opponent in a negative way. She refused to go negative. She also refused their recommendation that she remove me from her campaign because my personal candidate recommendations did not match hers 100% and spanned party lines. She refused to fire me. And most importantly she turned down a five figure amount in the form of a campaign contribution from the State Republicans because number one she filed mini-reporting with the PDC to run her campaign under $5000 which she has done and she refused to feel or give the impression that she was beholden in her possible future decision making to any single political or special interest group. I know for a fact that every time any state or local Republican group was going to do anything to promote her ,in even the smallest ways, they attempted to contact her about it first.

    So for the rational that the state Democratic Central Committee does not in any way discuss strategy with or let the Seaquist Campaign know what their general intentions or ideas are in either promoting the Seaquist campaign or attacking the opponent Doug Richards’ is rather hard to believe, grossly naive and really just splitting some of the finest hairs possible.

  6. Colleen – I’m not suggesting there’s no interaction between the two. I’m just putting it out there, technically there’s a disconnect. So in this case, if someone took Seaquist to task over an attack ad, he could technically say his campaign did not author it. Is it splitting hairs? Probably. Do voters most likely to be swayed by negative ads get the nuances? You tell me.

    Chris Henry, reporter

  7. Do I know if the voters can understand the nuances? No. Do I understand personally how easy it is for the candidates themselves to act upon their better character by using the power of their decision making over elements that they can influence and that directly relate to their personal campaign to remove negativity and channel it to a more positive portrayal of themselves or their campaign? Yes, I understand that fully and I have had a front row seat to how very easy it really is when you choose to do so. Technicality or not, the fact is that a candidate who does not openly object to a negative add run against their opponent is in reality granting it full and known approval with their silence.

    One thing that many voters are understanding about negative add campaigns and that we both seem to agree upon since you mentioned it in your blog article is that….. One finger pointed at me is four fingers pointed back you.

  8. I really have to agree that our political reporters have let us down this election year.

    The property tax issue is deeper than Richards asserts. He was delinquent on three different properties in four different years, 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2009 (Kitsap County Records).

    Doug Richards’ bio, published once again in today’s Peninsula Gateway, includes his claims to “20 years of experience as a battalion chief… He served two years in the U.S. Navy after high school, and during his time as a firefighter, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Oregon University. He also serves as president of the non-profit organization Adonai Harvest…”

    All of these claims are either false or grossly exaggerated. While Richards may have 20 years as a firefighter, he was promoted to battalion chief only in 2008. He served 21 months in the Navy, a significant difference from two years, as he had a 24 month activity duty commitment followed by a six year reserve commitment. He served neither the last three months of active duty nor any of the six years of reserve duty. As a former Navy personnel officer I can attest that we got every moment of a sailor’s commitment, day-for-day, unless we found an egregious reason to usher one out (Navy Military Personnel Manual (MILPERSMAN 1910-010 CH-11, 13)).

    Richards has attended Eastern Oregon University, EOU; and he got good grades; but he has not finished a degree program. He has an associate’s degree from Olympic College, but he has no bachelor’s degree from EOU (National Student Clearinghouse®).

    As far as his claim to fame as president of Adonai Harvest goes, he is the sole proprietor of that non-profit which he started in November, 2006. What’s more, Adonai Harvest failed to file with the IRS in any year after its initial filing (taxexemptworld.com). The IRS website states that an organization that fails to file required Form 990-N (or information returns – Forms 990 or 990-EZ) for three consecutive years will automatically lose its tax-exempt status. If the IRS gets around to it, Richards will likely find himself out of a job as president of his own non-profit (www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=169250,00.html).

    I do not pretend to have all the facts of Mr. Richards’ life, nor do I care to; but with just these few items before us, I have to ask if he is the sort of person we want looking after our $71.8 billion biennial budget (www.leg.wa.gov/Senate/Committees/WM/Documents/Publications/BudgetGuides/2010/CGTB2010Final_3.pdf)?

  9. Beatty of the PDC may be right about the campaign supporters not caring about reimbursements for personal memberships in the NRA and the Chamber of Commerce, but if Doug Richards gets elected, I’ll have an issue with paying taxes to the NRA.

  10. “Note that the flier was paid for by the state Democratic Central Committee, not Seaquist’s campaign. Does that make any difference to you?”

    Somewhat, but its political strategy also. We know that political campaigns throw mud one way or the other. At least the majority appear to do regardless of party. Also its usually mud thrown from the sidelines and the candidate is made to look above the fray.Which is good strategy but for those who are tuned into the issues and stop to see the spin behind the attcks its gets old. I do think attack ads usually work on those who have not taken the time to read about the issues. Its what gets the partsians so mad about the ads I think .

    I really hope to hear a candidate say “I endorse this message because if I don’t throw this mud I may not be able to win on the issues alone”.

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