The commission declined to take up the complaints, ruling threats against citizens over campaign contributions are not against state law
CLARK COUNTY — UPDATE 7/31/20: The PDC has also dismissed a complaint filed by Eric Temple against 18th District Sen. Ann Rivers. Temple had accused Rivers of urging him via text to steer $5,000 of a $20,000 donations from Portland-Vancouver Junction Railroad (PVJR) to the Clark County Republican Party.
“This would solve a number of problems for both of us,” Rivers wrote to Temple.
Temple said he believed Rivers was promising to smooth over ongoing issues between his railroad business and Clark County (see article below for details). Rivers denied the allegations, saying the problems she was referring to were schisms within the local Republican party.
Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), the state watchdog group which regulates campaigns and candidates, has dismissed a complaint filed against Clark County Councilor John Blom.
On Thursday, Blom posted the PDC’s findings to his Facebook page and said, “The complaint had so little merit they did so without interviewing me or anyone from my campaign.”
Unsurprisingly, Blom’s accuser sees it differently.
“This letter in no way vindicates John Blom,” said Eric Temple, president of the Portland-Vancouver Junction Railroad. “All the PDC is saying is that lawmakers exempted themselves from being held accountable for threatening people over campaign contributions.”
Temple lodged his complaint with the PDC on July 20, alleging Blom had “asked for a high ranking member of his campaign to reach out to an associate of mine, Amber Carter.”
Temple alleges that the unnamed associate spoke with Carter several times, ultimately threatening that “if any of my campaign contributions went to John Blom’s opponent, he would use his office to retaliate against my company.”
In late June, Temple, through PVJR, wrote a $20,000 check to the Clark County Republican Party.
On July 20, the party contributed $15,000 to the campaign of Karen Bowerman, Blom’s Republican opponent and wife of the county GOP Chair Earl Bowerman.
Temple is also the largest individual donor to Bowerman’s campaign, contributing the maximum $1,000.
Blom says a member of his campaign staff, who had worked with Carter, contacted the lobbyist after hearing rumors Temple was using the county party to funnel a large donation to Bowerman’s campaign.
Blom noted in early July that he had spoken with the team member, and no threats were ever made.
“As I’ve stated from the beginning, this complaint as well as the ethics complaint, were completely fabricated to influence the election,” Blom said in his social media post on Thursday. “I’m looking forward to focusing on the issues that face Clark County over the next four years!”
Temple has frequently employed a very public approach to airing his grievances with the county.
After successfully lobbying for a new state law allowing for freight rail-dependent development along part of the county-owned Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, which PVJR operates through a lease with the county, Temple became frustrated with the process of implementing the rezoning.
In Feb. 2018, he penned a letter to several local legislators, along with the members of the County Council and several staffers, accusing then-Senior Prosecuting Attorney Christine Cook of a conflict of interest, based on her past legal work for the environmental rights group 1000 Friends of Oregon.
Shortly after that, the county began looking into the validity of PVJR’s lease, eventually leading to a still-pending legal battle in which Temple has repeatedly accused the county, especially former County Manager Shawn Henessee, of trying to force him out before he can recoup his investment in the rail line.
While Blom has expressed concern over Temple’s vision for the part of that rail line through Brush Prairie, he believes Bowerman is seen as a more sympathetic vote for industrial development.
“I have grave concerns about Mr. Temple’s efforts to industrialize Brush Prairie, including his suggestion about the potential of an asphalt plant in the rural area,” Blom wrote to Clark County Today on July 8. “Apparently he believes by supporting Ms. Bowerman she will be more supportive of his proposals, over the objections of our rural citizens.”
In response, Temple maintains he never instructed the Clark County Republican Party where to spend his campaign contributions.
“They could spend it on office furniture for all I know,” he said earlier this month.
The PDC decision does not focus on whether Blom’s associate issued a threat. Instead, it ruled that “RCW 42.17A.565 prohibits any state, local, or public employee for soliciting contributions from an employee in their agency, or providing an advantage or disadvantage in employment to any employee or applicant for employment in classified civil service.”
Based on that legal standing, the commission determined the complaint could not move forward because “no evidence was provided to show that Eric Temple is an employee in classified civil service, or that Eric Temple is an employee or applicant for employment with Clark County.”
The PDC decision does note that “No other provisions of Chapter 42.17A RCW or Title 390 WAC prohibit threats related to contribution activity.”
“The people who make the laws have exempted themselves from being held accountable for threatening people over campaign contributions,” says an exasperated Temple. “I’m sorry. That’s what happened.”
Temple also filed an ethics complaint against Blom through the county, along with District 1 Councilor Temple Lentz, accusing them of violating their code of conduct, though neither complaint will move ahead until after the primary election, at the earliest.
The council voted last week to shelve those complaints over concerns about the existing process of investigating them, a decision Temple says he supports, though he expressed disappointment that Blom and Lentz didn’t recuse themselves from the vote.