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
couple paid the outstanding amount and cleared the lien in
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