Kirkland City Council member Toby Nixon says a candidate for the EvergreenHealth Board of Commissioners has violated campaign disclosure laws, but the candidate, Kinnon Williams, blames it on a malfunction of the Public Disclosure Commission website. And Nixon says the complaint is especially important because of the main donor who’s supporting Williams.
Toby Nixon, a member of the Kirkland City Council, filed the complaint against Williams around Oct. 14 after reading an article in the Kirkland Reporter about Williams and his opponent, incumbent Rebecca Hirt. Hirt has held the position of commissioner 2, representing Kirkland and Kenmore, on the EvergreenHealth Board for 30 years.
Nixon said the article "mentioned in passing" that Williams had raised more than $30,000 in donations.
"That struck me as an extraordinarily high number …" Nixon said. "I was instantly curious — how has he raised that much? Who’s supporting his campaign?"
A handwritten form shows $30,000 in donations, part of Williams’ total of about $30,400. But an electronic search of the PDC database is missing $10,000 of that and shows only $20,400.
Candidates must file electronically when their contributions exceed $5,000, said Lori Anderson, media contact for the PDC. The database only shows reports that are filed electronically.
Williams said he reported all his contributions, but that he couldn’t report them electronically because of problems with the PDC’s website, which he described as "the most user-unfriendly thing that I have ever seen."
"We filed everything in a timely manner, and it’s very confusing how everything gets done at the PDC," Williams said.
When Williams got donations in July, he tried to file them electronically but couldn’t, since the PDC requires candidates to set up an account by mail. He said he contacted the PDC repeatedly to set up an account, but no one responded.
"Instead of blowing the deadline, I filed by paper," he said, adding, "It’s insane that you have to send something by mail to set up something electronically."
He said he refiled everything electronically in early September, although $10,000 of his contributions still don’t show up on the PDC website (as of Oct. 25.)
"I’m always a bit critical of the PDC because of the complexity of their software," Nixon acknowledged. "It’s not the most intuitive thing to use. But that’s not an excuse for not reporting it properly and on time."
Nixon admits the main issue isn’t the manner in which Williams filed his reports, but the fact that almost all of Williams’ funding comes from the same donors. Williams received $10,000 from Al DeYoung, an EvergreenHealth Board member for 34 years and the Chair of the Board for the past 12 years. Donna DeYoung, Al’s wife, and Lucy DeYoung, Al’s daughter and a former Woodinville mayor, also donated $10,000 each.
Nixon adds that it’s "suspicious" that the DeYoungs donated $30,000 several days before a law went into effect that would limit contributions to $800 per person.
This month, Al DeYoung also made an independent contribution of $30,000, more than $25,000 of which he spent on mailers supporting Williams, through a political action committee called "Keep EvergreenHealth Improving sponsored by Al DeYoung."
Nixon calls it "a conflict of interest at best" and perhaps even "unethical."
"Should the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners be spending $60,000 to try to unseat one of his fellow commissioners and elect somebody that he wants?" Nixon said. "I just think that’s wrong."
Williams and DeYoung say it’s not. Williams dismisses Nixon’s complaint as "petty, and someone trying to be relevant who’s not." DeYoung says Nixon is "out of his mind."
"I’m not buying Kinnon Williams," DeYoung said. "He’s always been a man of his own convictions. I don’t need a patsy."
DeYoung says he’s exercising his right as a voter to express his opinion by donating, and he believes Williams is "by far the superior candidate" based on Williams’ previous work — for example, raising $9 million for the EvergreenHealth Foundation.
"I think Kinnon Williams would be a better team player," DeYoung said. "He’s not out there taking credit for things the whole Board has done."
Williams says commissioners donate to candidates "all the time," and says the donations from the DeYoungs wouldn’t influence how he votes.
"Most of the people on the Board have been there for a long time," Williams said of his reasons for running. "It’s time for some new blood."
Although Nixon calls the amount of money the DeYoungs have donated to Williams "extraordinary," Williams says it’s necessary to run a campaign in a district with hundreds of thousands of people.
"Just to do one mailer, it costs almost $20,000," Williams said.
Hirt — who has raised about $3,200 from 15 donors, including about $1,300 of her own money — said she’s focusing on following disclosure rules herself rather than looking for her opponent’s violations. With less money to draw on, she’s been campaigning heavily by calling more than 1,000 voters in the past month, she said.
"The president of the board, Al DeYoung has stated that my opponent is the best man for the job," she wrote in an email. "And if the voter chooses who to elect based on gender, well, I certainly can’t pass for a man! I believe, that our community deserves a balanced board made up of both men and woman and based on my experience and track record, I believe that while I’m not the best man for the job, I am the best person for the job."
Jeanette Greenfield, another current Board member, said DeYoung has contributed money to her campaigns in the past, and that "none of us [Board members] are ruled by Al DeYoung."
"It’s been done multiple times before in the past, and there’s nothing illegal about it," she said.
In 2009, DeYoung made an independent contribution of more than $15,000 for mailers for Chuck Pilcher. Pilcher defeated incumbent Rex Lindquist and now serves on the Board.
The PDC probably won’t investigate Nixon’s complaint until after the election due to the high volume of complaints, Anderson said.