Northwest News

State Auditor Troy Kelley empties campaign account

Calls for indicted state Auditor Troy Kelley to resign continued to mount Tuesday, with two state lawmakers saying the House should pursue impeachment if he won’t go.

Meanwhile, campaign finance reports show Kelley emptied his campaign account in April, spending the remaining money on communication with the news media about his legal defense.

Kelley paid $12,668 to Mark Firmani on April 1 for media services. Firmani said the money was actually paid to his company, Firmani and Associates.

Firmani fields reporters’ questions for Kelley. He organized a news conference Kelley held in Tacoma April 16 after his first appearance in federal court on charges of keeping stolen money and tax evasion.

“Certainly the issues he is facing will have an impact on his political future,” Firmani said in a statement. “Our work in advising him falls squarely within the realm of political consulting.”

Kelley has taken a leave of absence but hasn’t stepped down, even as a judge slated his trial for January 2016. Two Republican House members announced plans Tuesday to begin the impeachment process against the Democrat, but House leaders don’t expect to advance them.

The payment for communications exhausted the money Kelley has raised for re-election in 2016. The contributions were received in 2013 — before Kelley’s legal troubles surfaced — from chiropractors, manufactured-housing owners, Delta Dental and others.

Opinions by representatives of donors on the spending varied. One, Joe McGee of the union Professional and Technical Employees Local 17, said it didn’t seem inappropriate at first glance. Another, Eric Earling of insurance company Premera, said Kelley should return the money if it isn’t being used legally.

Is the spending legal? It depends on what exactly Kelley’s public-relations effort includes, state Public Disclosure Commission spokeswoman Lori Anderson said.

State law bars personal use of campaign money. That includes spending the money on legal defense, Anderson said. But “damage control” related to running for re-election might qualify as a campaign expense, she said.

A resolution introduced Tuesday by Republican Reps. Drew MacEwen of Union and Drew Stokesbary of Auburn calls for Kelley to immediately resign, but also calls for the creation of a committee to begin to draft articles of impeachment if he continues to refuse to do so.

The resolution calls for the committee to draft charges “relating to Troy Kelley’s malfeasance in office, including but not limited to the abandonment of his office, improper delegation of the power and duties of his office, failure of the duties of his office and the willful neglect of duties of his office.”

But for the measure to move forth, House leadership must agree to move the resolution forward, something leaders Tuesday said they were not willing to do at this time. In a written statement, Democratic House Speaker Frank Chopp said that he and House Republican leader Dan Kristiansen agree “that now is not the time to consider impeachment.”

Chopp said that lawmakers, who are in the midst of a special legislative session to work out their differences on the state operating budget, must focus on that work.

A majority of the House must vote for impeachment, and the Senate holds the trial for conviction and removal from office. Two-thirds of elected senators must vote for conviction.

The last time the Legislature took such action was 1909, when the House voted to impeach Insurance Commissioner John Schively over accusations of extortion and embezzlement. The Senate was one vote short of the required two-thirds threshold to convict and remove him from office.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.