All Politics is Local

Group seeks investigation into Benton

A group of Clark County citizens is asking the state Public Disclosure Commission to re-evaluate an October decision that precluded state Sen. Don Benton from disclosing most of the top clients of his consulting business.

Before his controversial hiring as Clark County’s environmental services director, Benton owned a business, National Advertising Consultants Inc., that provided marketing, sales and political advice for various clients. But since 1999 Benton hadn’t listed his clients on the PDC’s F1 reports, which are intended to ferret out potential conflicts of interest.

The PDC opened an investigation into Benton following inquiries by The Columbian. The PDC ultimately ruled that Benton would have to report his clients, but only if they paid him more than $10,000 and operated in Washington. He didn’t have to list the others. The decision followed an exemption request Benton filed with the PDC. At the time, he argued that less than 1 percent of his clients were in Washington.

Now, 195 Clark County citizens have filed a petition asking the PDC to re-open its investigation and reconsider its previous decision. “We request the PDC to determine how many years Senator Benton failed to report properly–before receiving permission from the PDC–officially determine whether he violated rules or not during those years, and what the appropriate penalty per year should be,” the letter reads.

The letter asks the PDC to look into Benton’s filing history to see how long he was “violating the PDC reporting rules” before actually requesting an exemption.

The list of citizens who signed the letter, which was distributed May 1 by prominent Democrat Marsha Manning, includes some politically charged names, such as former Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard, satirical blogger Temple Lentz and Vancouver city council candidate Ty Stober, among others.

I left a message with Andrea Doyle, executive director of the Public Disclosure Commission. I’ll update the post when she responds.

Update: Lori Anderson, the PDC’s communications officer, said the commission received the letter. She said she explained to Manning that the commission does not have a mechanism to go back and reconsider opinions.

However, Benton filed a renewal of his exemption earlier in the year, which the PDC board will consider on May 22.

Dear Director Doyle and Mr. Ferguson:

Below please find a letter signed by 195 residents of Clark County, requesting a Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) investigation to determine whether Senator Don Benton violated PDC rules by failing to report properly for many years, long before he sought permission to do so from the PDC.  We believe he clearly failed to report properly for years, and only sought exemption from the PDC once his improper reporting was made public by local media.  We request the PDC to determine how many years Senator Benton failed to report properly–before receiving permission from the PDC–officially determine whether he violated rules or not during those years, and what the appropriate penalty per year should be.

The letter also requests the PDC to reconsider its recent decision to exempt Senator Benton from the financial disclosure requirements that all other legislators must follow, and provides reasons why this decision should be reconsidered.  Finally, the letter also offers the support of 195 Clark County residents for the ongoing legal action regarding Don Benton’s hire by Clark County with no interview, no advertising of the position, no opportunity for others to apply, and no regard for the written hiring practices of Clark County.

Please do not ignore the voice of 195 Clark County residents.  Please determine how many years Senator Benton violated PDC reporting rules before seeking exemption; and please reconsider the exemption itself and require full disclosure of his financial relationships, retroactively, for the reasons expressed in the letter below.

Three articles from local media are also linked, below, to provide additional background information and context.  Citizens who would like to add their names to the letter may do so by visiting www.ClarkCountyFirst.com.

We look forward to your reply.

Update: Lori Anderson, the PDC’s communications officer, said the commission received the letter. She said she explained to Manning that the commission does not have a mechanism to go back and reconsider opinions.

However, Benton filed a renewal of his exemption earlier in the year, with the PDC board will consider on May 22.

Tyler Graf

I started working for The Columbian in 2012 and currently cover Clark County. I'm a 2007 graduate of The University of Oregon. Contact me at tyler.graf@columbian.com

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