The complaint alleges potential violations of RCW 42.17A.555 though use of position titles and the North Whatcom Fire District logo to support a political campaign.
PDC staff determined there were two separate allegations in the complaint:
A) Mr. Salter and Mr. Berkeley used their titles as public employees to support a political campaign by writing letters to the editor; and
B) Mr. Whitney for using the logo of North Whatcom Fire and Rescue in advertisements supporting his political campaign.
PDC staff reviewed the allegations in light of the following statute and rule to determine whether a formal investigation or enforcement action was warranted.
RCW 42.17A.555 prohibits elected officials, their employees, and persons appointed to or employed by a public office or agency from using or authorizing the use of public facilities, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of assisting a candidate’s campaign, or for the promotion of or opposition to any ballot proposition.
WAC 390-05-271 states in part that (1) RCW 42.17A.555 does not restrict the right of any individual to express his or her own personal views concerning, supporting, or opposing any candidate or ballot proposition, if such expression does not involve a use of the facilities of a public office or agency, and (2) that RCW 42.17A.555 does not prevent a public office or agency from making facilities available on a nondiscriminatory, equal access basis for political uses.
PDC staff reviewed the complaint and found the following:
• If no other public facilities are used to author or transmit a campaign statement, PDC staff advises officials that they may reference their titles when supporting or opposing candidates and ballot propositions under RCW 42.17A.555. PDC staff encourages officials to make it clear that they are speaking personally, rather than on behalf of their agency (e.g., “You may recognize me as your mayor, but I’m writing today as your friend and neighbor…”), however any failure to do so does not, by itself, indicate a use of public facilities prohibited by RCW 42.17A.555.
• If the campaign obtains an agency logo through a public records request, or simply downloads the logo from the agency’s Web site using a private computer, such use qualifies as an equal-access, nondiscriminatory use of public facilities for campaign purposes, which is allowed under WAC 390-05-271(2).
For the above reasons, the PDC will not be conducting a more formal investigation into the complaint or pursuing enforcement action in this case.