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State worker’s email asking vets to support Patty Murray prompts ethics investigation

An email sent by a Washington State employee to veterans that urged support for Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.) re-election effort are now the focus of an official complaint before the Washington State Executive Ethics Board, the five-person nonpartisan commission charged with investigating accusations of unethical behavior by state employees and officials.

According to a source close to the Ethics Board, a complaint was referred by the Washington Employment Security Department concerning WorkSource employees – Employment Security’s partner agency – using state resources to campaign for Patty Murray. Employment Security spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison confirmed by email that her agency was the source of the referral, although she could not provide any further details about the complaint.

Until the complaint is made public, it will not be known if it focuses only on the actions of the one employee currently known to have been involved in sending out the emails, or if other parties will also subjects of the investigation.

Although chalking the entire matter up to a single state worker acting alone may be tempting, emails already released by Employment Security offer a reason to believe that her actions were not independent.

Released documents show that the WorkSource employee forwarded one interested veteran’s response to a third party, writing to that person, “This is the first one I received.” It would not be hasty to assume that the purpose of the communication was to provide a progress report, however informal. As more information about the identity of the third party becomes available, questions about the possible sharing of private information outside of state agencies, or the more insidious possibility that WorkSource employees were coordinating their actions with outside parties, may be resolved.

The Ethics Board is scheduled to meet Friday morning in Olympia. It is unclear whether this matter will be on the agenda.

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