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Patty Murray’s Attack Ad Redux: Recycled Video May Raise Campaign Finance Questions

Promoted from diaries.  Also: wow.  – Moe Lane

If you have been getting an annoying sense of déjà vu while watching the air blitz in the U.S. Senate race, it may be because you’ve seen it all before. I’m not referring to Republican challenger Dino Rossi’s previous campaigns for elected office, but instead to a remarkable amount of video and interview footage from Sen. Patty Murray’s attack ads against Rossi that bear a striking resemblance to images from ads against Rossi that aired in 2008. Only the ads that aired in ’08 were in support of Gov. Chris Gregoire and paid for by one-time SEIU and AFL-CIO darling, the Evergreen Progress political action committee.

Although this may just seem like another example of Hollywood rubbing off on Democrat wannabes – in this case, their stubborn refusal to come up with original content – the ads have the potential to inflame serious ethics issues for Murray’s campaign with little more than a week until Election Day.

Comparing the ads side by side, it wouldn’t require the intuitive skill of forensic pathologist to conclude they came from the same block of commercially-produced video.

The video capture images below compare two sets of virtually identical ads – on the right, Evergreen Progress from 2008; on the left, the ’10 Patty Murray remix.

These are two of perhaps dozens of examples, but could this simply be a case of a lazy producer hitting the stock library of Getty Images or some such image warehouse? Not likely. A review of the full video versions of each ad (view the Evergreen Progress versions and Murray’s campaign ads) shows that the images come from interviews with people purporting to care about Washington issues and professing genuine hatred for Rossi.

If it’s not double vision, it should at least start voters and campaign finance officials scratching their heads. How did this video go from being the property of Evergreen Progress to being used in Patty Murray’s attack ads? Answer that question and a jackpot of additional inquiries will almost certainly follow.

Although I like to envision an exchange of stacks of video cassettes between overcoat-clad operatives in a dark corner of the parking garage at the Seattle Westin (Westingate has a nice ring to it), the link between Murray and the union’s former favorite Democratic PAC in Washington is actually not that obscure.

Jason Bennett has been the treasurer of Evergreen Progress and coincidentally kicked off his political career as an intern for Murray. Bennett’s name may also be familiar to those who followed the King County Executive race in 2009. He was named in a complaint filed with the Public Disclosure Commission because while he was serving as current King County Executive Dow Constantine’s campaign treasurer he was also affiliated with Citizens to Uphold the Constitution, an independent group that ran running attack ads against his opponent, Susan Hutchison. Bennett’s significant connections to Washington State Democrats and liberal interest groups are also well-documented.

An even more substantial connection to Murray comes in the form of Rick Desimone, often referred to as the chairman of Evergreen, listed on the PAC’s public disclosures in the space reserved for indicating a campaign manager, and who also served as Murray’s chief of staff for eight years.

In the 2008 election cycle, Evergreen Progress spent more than $6.3 million, much of it coming from union sources dedicated to tearing down Dino Rossi in his bid that year to unseat Gov. Chris Gregoire. With all of that money floating around, one would have expected a few competent accounts to be lurking as well. Any treasurer worth their salt should also be grounded in the basic concepts of general accounting.

To that point, the treasurer for the Murray campaign must understand that the stack of videotapes handed over in whatever exchange was devised could be seen as assets. Assets — as all green-shaded bean counters know — have value, and value has a specific meaning to candidates and their campaigns for re-election. Whatever has value is also subject to disclosure as a contribution, in-kind or otherwise. Perhaps these disclosures are forthcoming, in which case it is certainly in the public’s interest to know that Evergreen Progress is jumping back in the game of influencing elections.

The real rub is that this adds to a climate of unethical behavior that has been hanging over Murray’s campaign like a noxious cloud, one the kowtowing mainstream press seems not too eager to wander into. My own investigation documented the actions of a state worker who campaigned for Murray using government resources and used confidential lists of agency clients to solicit votes and volunteers from unemployed veterans. The Executive Ethics Board with authority to discipline the state employee is said to be investigating her actions, but emails obtained from the Employment Security Department contained serious implications that the employee was acting upon the direct request of a Murray campaign staffer, Kerala Hise.

As of now, no complaint has been filed with the Federal Elections Commission that polices races such as the one between Rossi and Murray.

[By Bryan Myrick]

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