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August 23, 2011 at 12:25 PM

Dems slam McKenna car lease that Gregoire got too

Posted by Jim Brunner

The state Democratic Party is trying hard to make hay this morning out of a media report that Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna was getting "free" use of a leased car for his campaign.

Party Chairman Dwight Pelz seized on a report by columnist Joel Connelly about the Honda Pilot. The headline on the story said McKenna was getting "free" use of the car.

Actually, the $475-a-month lease from Honda Auto Center of Bellevue was reported as an in-kind contribution to the McKenna for Governor campaign. That's a legal campaign donation, subject to the $1,600 per-election limit. Once the cap is reached, the campaign will have to start paying directly for the car.

Connelly suggested the use of the car was somehow troubling because McKenna, as attorney general, oversees consumer complaints against auto dealers. (Though he noted the Honda dealer had no recent complaints against it). Democrats plan a news conference this afternoon to highlight what they call a "clear conflict of interest."

Left unmentioned in the Connelly piece and the Democratic attacks was that Democrat Chris Gregoire did the same thing when she was attorney general running for governor in 2004. (A GOP spokesman made that point to local political news site this morning.)

Gregoire reported the use of a car from Dwayne Layne Everett Dodge as an in-kind contribution during her 2004 campaign, according to state Public Disclosure Commission reports. She reported similar contributions when running for reelection as attorney general in previous years.

In a post this morning, P-I political writer Chris Grygiel also cited Gregoire's car lease and noted that the PDC investigated and dismissed a technical complaint about it in 2001.

"In-kind" contributions are common for campaigns. Donors provide cars or pay for food in lieu of cash. Such donations count against the contribution limits, and absent evidence of a quid pro quo, there is nothing unusual about them.

In any case, I don't recall Democrats being so troubled by Gregoire's "conflict of interest" at the time.

Asked about that, Reesa Kossoff, a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party, said "I don't think this is a question about Christine Gregoire. This is a question about the race between Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna."

McKenna campaign manager Randy Pepple called the car issue a sideshow. "The article was inaccurate - there was no free car for the McKenna campaign. It's unfortunate that we're being distracted from the real issues."

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