Partial Merger: WA-GOP and WA Attorney General Office

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This is the image from a faux Attorney General letterhead used in a mass mailing by Washington's Attorney General Rob McKenna in 11/06 to support a Republican candidate for state Senate. During the same election, Mr. McKenna recorded a robo-call, identifying himself as Washington's Attorney General and advising listeners to vote for Luke Esser for state Representative. Both these cases represent a conflating of public office with partisan activities. So do the recent actions of Luke Esser, who left his position as Outreach Director for the WA Attorney General's office in January to take on the Chairmanship of the state Republican Party -- and worked for the GOP for at least part of one day without prior leave from the AG office. Permission is given to copy and distribute this image and the gif of the letterhead (criticism of WA Senator excised)..

Resignation letter, 1/31/07  --   Leave request, 2/16/07

Luke Esser, Outreach Director for Washington's Attorney General's (AG) office, included a personal touch in his 1/31/07 resignation letter from that position.  He expressed gratitude to Rob McKenna, Washington's AG, for the opportunities he had provided him over the years.  And, attesting to the close relationship and interlinking personal and professional activities of these two prominent state Republicans, he told Mr. McKenna: "I am comforted by the thought that I will see you regularly on Sunday mornings".


Mr. Esser's resignation letter was written several days after his election as Chair of the Washington State Republican Party (WA-GOP).  It was written one day after  Particle Man on Washblog had questioned why Mr. Esser had, the previous day, worked during business hours for the WA-GOP while still an AG employee.  

According to the copy of the leave request I received last Friday, Mr. Esser's appplication for unpaid leave from the AG office to do partisan work on 1/29 was first applied for two weeks after he took those hours, on 2/16.

Washington state laws on ethics in public service prohibit the use of state funds, employee time, resources, or facilities for partisan activities. Wasn't Mr. Esser operating outside the law on 1/29/07? Would this kind of behavior be tolerated in the private sector?

Even if he did not break the law, by creating this appearance of impropriety and of possible illegality, Mr. Esser, a high-level employee representing the public face of our state's top legal office, brought upon himself an affirmative obligation to demonstrate that he was within the law and the public trust.  To my knowledge, he took no effort to meet this obligation.  At least not until 2/16, when I read a story on HorsesAss that showed Mr. Esser was still on the AGO website as an employee -- and called that office to ask for documentation to clear things up.

I don't think this resignation letter and leave request set this matter to rest. I think they demonstrate the need for further investigation.

Mr. McKenna, Washington's top legal officer, and Mr. Esser, who represented that office to the public, hold a uniquely high level of responsibility to strictly follow state's ethics laws -- and to appear to the public to strictly follow these laws -- both in their letter and their intent.  

This responsibility is heightened further by Mr. McKenna's recent history of partisan advocacy, two instances of which are detailed at the head of this post. In both these instances, Mr. McKenna employed a technique of conflating in the public's mind his governmental and partisan roles. In one of these instances, the confusion created was in support of Mr. Esser's political aspirations. Esser and McKenna's responsibility is, again, heightened because they are politically ambitious individuals who have made a point of publicly declaring their support for government accountability at a time when voters so value accountability that it is a key selling point for candidates. Mr. McKenna has stated that government accountability is a top priority for the AG office.  As noted above, Mr. Esser has signed a pledge "to suppport the public's right to know at every opportunity".  

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What steps should be taken to further investigate?
Washington newspapers should investigate / report
There should be an official state investigation
Both of the above
Not a big deal, let it go

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Considering that our new US Attorney has apparently been chosen for his political reliability, and Mr. McKenna has primary control of the State's investigative apparatus, there needs to be some way of getting this investigated, without it turning into a partisan fishing expedition.  (Yes, the Republicans will spin it that way no matter what we do, but we should do it properly anyway.)

While to me, this looks like a clear violation of Washington law, I'm not an attorney, and don't even play one on TV.

I hear that there is a really good attorney that is looking for work, and has experience in this area.  Could we give Mr. McKay a call?

by jbarelli on Tue Feb 20, 2007 at 08:32:52 AM PST

* 1 none 0 *

Two things stand out for me:
1. It makes not a lick of difference that Luke did not have the state GOP issue him a pay check (so we are told) for the first two weeks after he was elected to and started the full time job as State GOP chair. The fact is, he was doing that job most of the first weekday after his election and for much of every workday over the following two weeks. He gave interviews to many papers, had meetings with Rossi and many other GOP political leaders, made and received 100's of phone calls, made preparations for the McCane campaign visit, interviewed prospective employees for GOP staff, made fundraising calls and so on.
And if the GOP was not paying him for this work, the taxpayers across this state, regardless of party affiliation were.
2. The ethics and campaign laws as they relate to state employees are clear and no where do they suggest that an employee can do a little campaigning every day, make a few party phone calls, have only a few political meetings a day.
No, the laws spell out a TOTAL PROHIBITION on partisan political activity that makes use of state facilities of takes place on state time PERIOD! And the official responsible for enforcing these laws, for looking out for the taxpayers interests in this area, was Luke's boss, Rob McKenna who directly hired Luke both at King County and at the AG's office in a political position. They both know the law, its intent, and  to dance around it arrogantly as they have shows their total contempt for the very laws the AG took his oath to uphold.

by Particle Man on Tue Feb 20, 2007 at 08:59:56 AM PST

* 2 none 0 *

Postman has more here and mentions this post on Washblog. Esser admits he should have filed a leave slip sooner.

by Cherisse on Tue Feb 20, 2007 at 06:53:26 PM PST

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I posted some of this over on Postman blog-anyway:

The attitude of the Attorney General's office headed by close Esser friend Rob McKenna is the real issue here. The culture within that office that enables use of the office for partisan politics as long as it can be plausibly denied is a culture that everyone should be concerned about.

What is next? Will the laws of this state be selectively enforced based upon who the injured party is or what party they belong to or how much they donated to the GOP whenever this linkage can be plausibly denied?

The integrity of this office and of our states ethics laws are important and when those in government lower their standards the result eventually is corruption.
Oliver North, in his testimony about Iran/Contra explained how he was expected to opperate between the intent of the law and that which could be plausably denied.
It sure looks like Rob McKenna is an Oliver North fan to me.

by Particle Man on Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 09:48:34 AM PST

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