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Saturday, March 2, 2024
March 2, 2024

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‘Threat to democracy.’ Tri-City sheriff says anonymous blogger broke WA campaign laws

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KENNEWICK — If you’ve driven in Pasco this fall, you likely noticed some black-and-yellow signs nestled among dense flocks of campaign signs.

They advertise a blog, PascoCorrupt.Com, published by an anonymous author who claims the city is awash in political corruption caused by Republicans.

It’s garnered plenty of attention, as well as some ire from local conservatives, in particular Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond.

Raymond has filed a complaint with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission, claiming the writer broke state campaign finance laws by not registering as a political committee or providing identification on the signs.

He sees the blog as a campaign, and campaigns are required to submit registration and finances with the state. The sheriff asserts the blog was active in “campaigning” against candidates endorsed by the Franklin County Republican Party during the Nov. 7 general election.

The Tri-Cities has had its fair share of anonymous writers in recent years churning out poignant political critiques. Though shrouded behind the veil of internet secrecy, these platforms can sway or influence local civic and political discourse.

“Being allowed to conduct unreported campaigns against individuals running for public office is not only against the law, but it is a direct threat to democracy as it influences free and fair elections by preventing the community from being able to ‘follow the money,’” Raymond wrote in his complaint.

But in a response provided to the PDC, the anonymous writer denies the comparison to a political committee and says they are not required to file reports to the state.

“(PascoCorrupt) does not accept donations nor make expenditures in any election campaign, nor does it endorse or support any particular candidate or candidates, nor is it tied to any election cycle,” the writer wrote in a response. “PascoCorrupt is a private news blog protected under the First Amendment as a response to the growing patterns of local political corruption.”

But in one blog entry, the writer claims their signs are protected against vandalism under the same Washington state law that protects legitimate forms of political advertisement and signs.

PDC staff opened a case on Oct. 30 and they’re currently assessing the facts. They have 90 days from opening the case to determine if they want to open an official investigation into the matter.

‘Stifle free and protected speech’

The sheriff has been the subject of at least a couple online entries from the blogger.

The writer criticizes Raymond over his $25,000 claim over a per diem meals dispute, his discontent over the bi-county relationship and Columbia Valley Center for Recovery, and his tenuous relationship with labor unions.

“James Raymond is not running for office,” the blogger writes in their response. “He is attempting to use the PDC to stifle free and protected speech, and bully those he finds offensive.”

Raymond told the Herald in an emailed statement that “propaganda and accusations” are not free speech.

“If he or she is concerned about their free speech, then a person shouldn’t hide themselves from a public forum when speaking. Sounds like a coward to me. But I have a right to free speech myself,” Raymond wrote.

The writer also called the Franklin County GOP a “shameful organization tied to terrorists,” highlighting its ties to Jan. 6 insurrectionist Taylor Taranto, who is the party’s former webmaster, as well as Commissioner Clint Didier’s support for former state Rep. Matt Shea, the Spokane Valley Republican who was labeled a “domestic terrorist” in a report by the Legislature.

The PascoCorrupt blogger also called the party’s endorsement of four candidates running for nonpartisan seats on the Pasco City Council “innapropriate.”

NFL press box passes

Another notable issue brought up by the PascoCorrupt blogger is the relationship between two city councilmen and the owner of the La Voz newspaper.

The blog alleges that La Voz publisher David Cortinas attempted to gain the influence of councilmen David Milne and Pete Serrano by offering them NFL media passes to attend and cover Seattle Seahawks games for the paper.

“Two council members on the take from a local media owner, he gives them press media passes worth thousands and they vote for his agenda,” the blogger writes. “At best the ‘jobs’ the two council members have as sports reporters are no-show shill jobs, as there is no actual output or body of work, just a few paragraphs fawning over an event they were given free passes to attend.”

When asked about the press passes during an October interview with the Tri-City Herald Editorial Board, Milne said he’s “neutral, tries to be Switzerland” with business leaders in the community and doesn’t allow outside influences to affect his business as a councilman.

Milne has volunteered three times in the past four years to cover Seahawks games for the small Pasco-based Hispanic publication. A self-described Seahawks fan, Milne characterized his work for Cortinas as “a favor.” He paid for his own lodging and travel when he and Serrano flew to Arlington, Texas, in 2019 to cover a wildcard game against the Cowboys.

Milne said he also ran questions by two Pasco city attorneys before attending games to make sure he wasn’t creating an issue for the city.

“It’s way over hyped. I’m doing him a favor, I’m not getting paid,” Milne told the Editorial Board. He added later: “If you move somebody’s furniture for the weekend, is it like a $2,000 thing because you’ve helped somebody move their furniture? You’re doing a favor, you’re trying to be nice.”

In an email published to the PascoCorrupt blog, Cortinas called the accusations “a big nasty lie” and said the blogger should “come out of the closet.” He said Milne has been writing for La Voz for more than a decade.

“I am not ashamed to have David Milne or any other person to write and give of themselves and time to support the Hispanic media,” Cortinas wrote. “David on many occasions has not always supported my ideas and has even voted against my requests, which actually disappointed me, but he votes as to what he believes and I can’t hold it against him.”

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