A political feud that swirled for nearly four years in Enumclaw city politics was settled last week in an Olympia meeting room.
The issue was simple, as matters go when falling under the purview of the state’s Public Disclosure Commission: cases had been brought – stemming from a 2015 Enumclaw City Council race – against Darrel Dickson, a former councilman, and Karen Jensen, a friend and political supporter.
The outcome was equally straightforward: Dickson settled the case against him prior to any PDC hearing and agreed to punishment. He was fined $4,000, with half that sum suspended. It will not have to be repaid unless Dickson someday commits another PDC violation.
The case against Jensen and, by extension, Citizens For A Better Enumclaw, was more involved. At the end of an all-day hearing she was fined $2,000; again, half the sum was suspended and will not require repayment unless she commits another PCD violation.
IT STARTS WITH A CONTENTIOUS RACE
Dickson was a sitting member of the Enumclaw City Council and was, in the fall of 2015, challenged by political newcomer Kim Lauk. While new to the world of city governance, she grew up in a political environment as the daughter of Christopher Hurst, a longtime member of the state House of Representatives.
The race was not particularly cordial and ended with Lauk ousting the one-term councilman. Lauk joined the council in 2016 but her tenure was relatively short; she suddenly resigned, stepping down in April of this year.
Information brought to light during the PDC process showed how other players came into the mix. Dickson had active support from State Sen. Pam Roach, who clashed politically with Hurst; through Roach, Dickson received campaign help from Conner Edwards and, eventually, Jensen entered the fray.
Complaints had eventually been made by Hurst to the PCD but had been dismissed. Later, however, Edwards and Hurst came into contact; their discussions were initially about another political matter but, eventually, Edwards revealed information about the Dickson campaign and provided a list of damaging emails. Those landed in the lap of the PDC, which initiated new action against Dickson and Jensen.
THE CASE MADE BY THE PDC
The complaints came to a head during a Sept. 19 meeting of the three commissioners who render verdicts in PDC matters.
An opening statement was provided by Assistant Attorney General Chad Standifer who noted much of the case boiled down to the word “agent.” Specifically, if Edwards was working as an agent for the Dickson campaign then Jensen would be found in violation of PDC rules.
At the heart of the matter was a monetary sum, a bit more than $2,600. That’s what Jensen and Citizens For A Better Enumclaw spent on mailings that supported Dickson’s candidacy. The PDC argued that Jensen incorrectly reported the money as an independent expenditure when, in fact, it should have been reported as an in-kind contribution.
Standifer laid out a plan by Roach and others to attack Lauk’s candidacy while distancing Dickson’s participation in the negative campaign. There was, he said, “an effort to provide cover for Mr. Dickson’s actual involvement.”
Part of the formal record was an email from Dickson to Edwards in which Dickson wrote that he was “not comfortable” with the nature of a campaign mailing. The email also requested that Dickson and Edwards have no further contact.
Standifer alleged there was a coordinated effort to involve Jensen in the campaign and keep Dickson away from the negative campaign tactics. He argued that Jensen went along and was not truly independent of the campaign.
Jensen was represented by attorney John White who said everything sprang from Hurst’s “vicious attack” on Dickson and Jensen’s subsequent decision to become involved in the campaign.
But her involvement was strictly in good faith, White said. He alleged that Jensen “was lied to about what Mr. Edwards was up to” and considered herself to be working independent of the official Dickson campaign.
TWO CALLED TO TESTIFY
The PDC commissioners heard from both Edwards and Jensen, who were questioned by attorneys from both sides.
Edwards testified that he was, in 2015, employed as a legislative aid for Roach and was instructed (by her) to work on the Dickson campaign. It was, he said, “sort of a forced volunteer thing.” He also spoke of a “bitter relationship” between Roach and Hurst.
His duties included opposition research, drafting letters and putting together campaign materials, Edwards said. He assembled two fliers with the initial understanding that Dickson would pay for them, Edwards said. He said it came as a surprise when he received an email from Roach explaining that Dickson needed to distance himself from the negative mailing.
In the end, Edwards said, it was clear that Jensen knew he was working with the campaign. However, under cross examination, he admitted to giving Jensen poor advice during the campaign and said he did “terrible things” during his time working on Dickson’s behalf.
Edwards was asked why he flipped sides and eventually provided information that supported complaints against Dickson and Jensen. Edwards said he had a falling-out with Roach and later learned that she was “trying to get me blackballed” when he was looking for political work.
During her testimony, Jensen said she had “very little” political experience and reiterated that her involvement stemmed from Hurst’s attacks on both her and her husband.
In wrapping up his case, Standifer said Jensen knew of the effort to distance Dickson from negative campaigning but admitted she may not have fully understood laws concerning her involvement.
But, he said, “as we all know, ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
Jensen’s attorney painted her as someone who just wanted to help, but was led down the wrong path. White hammered Edwards for admitted falsehoods and cited a history of “political chicanery.” White said Edwards made a concerted effort to conceal what was really going on during the campaign.
In the end, the PDC commissioners announced their conclusions. Those included the fact that Edwards was, in fact, working as an “agent” of the Dickson campaign and that Jensen knew of his role through contacts with both Roach and Dickson.
The commissioners agreed bad advice might have been given, but that did not sway their decision.
The Sept. 19 outcome was verbal only. A written order from the PCD is expected to be issued this Thursday, Sept. 26.