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MONROE MONITOR FOUND IN VIOLATION OF PUBLIC DISCLOSURE LAW
July 12, 2008
(MONROE, WA) -- The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission has ruled the Monroe Monitor newspaper and the paper’s publisher Ken Robinson violated state law in a long-standing Election 2007 campaign complaint.
Former Monroe City Council member Chad Minnick filed the complaint last year.
The presiding PDC officer in the case found the Monroe Monitor, and publisher Ken Robinson acting as a “commercial advertiser,” violated the law (RCW 42.17.110) on one occasion by failing to timely make its records available for open public inspection for political advertising.
Mr. Robinson provided the advertising noted in the Minnick complaint to Monroe City Council candidate Margie Rodriguez in October of 2007 as an “in kind” contribution.
The in-kind contribution refers to the fact Robinson the publisher, acting as a commercial advertiser in his own newspaper, donated the equivalent of $1,000 value in advertising space in the Monroe Monitor to Minnick’s election opponent, Ms. Rodriguez, during the election campaign for Minnick’s council position.
The PDC found the Monitor's employees had not made the records available to Mr. Minnick or his campaign aids until two full weeks (14 days) after the first records request was made. Mr. Minnick was not given access to the records until November 5, 2007 according to the PDC, one day before the 2007 general election. Ms. Rodriguez went on to win the election and Mr. Minnick lost his council seat.
The PDC also found the “compiled record” of the advertising in question consisted of information that was “already in existence” regarding Robinson’s donated political ad space in support of the Rodriguez campaign, and that copies of those records were available “on the counter” of the Monitor’s offices in downtown Monroe.
The PDC disposition report does not make clear why Mr. Minnick was not granted access to the records until one day before the election if they were available at the front counter of the newspaper, when Minnick claims he and a campaign aide requested to see the records no less than four times between October 19, 2007 and October 24, 2007.
The PDC dismissed one charge against Robinson and the Monroe Monitor, a charge by Minnick that the two were guilty of attempting to conceal the Rodriquez advertising donation by Mr. Robinson in violation of state law.
PENALTY FOR VIOLATION
In lieu of a civil penalty against the Monroe Monitor the presiding officer in the PDC case accepted a proposal by the Monroe Monitor to organize a training session to be coordinated with the PDC staff and members of the Washington Newspaper Publisher’s Association regarding requirements for commercial advertisers under RCW 42.17.110.
The PDC received Mr. Minnick's complaint January 23, 2008 and issued the results of its findings that the Monroe Monitor and publisher Ken Robinson had violated the law in a state document dated May 23, 2008.
MONITOR LATE IN PUBLISHING PDC FINDINGS
The Monroe Monitor reportedly did not publish the story of its own PDC investigation results until the paper’s July 8, 2008 edition a full forty-six days after the date the PDC’s enforcement against the Monroe Monitor was published in a state document titled “Results of Brief Enforcement Hearings – May 23, 2008.”
That May 23rd PDC document declares the investigation into the Minnick complaint “completed” and goes on to describe the violation of law and the assessed penalty against the Monroe Monitor.
MINNICK CHIDES NEWSPAPER FOR DELAY IN REPORTING PDC RESULTS
In comments on his Internet blog dated June 30, 2007 (http://www.chadminnick.com/main/?p=174) former councilman Minnick slammed the newspaper for not yet running the story of it’s own PDC investigation results saying to his readers, “You must have missed the article in the Monitor about them being guilty of a Public Disclosure violation in relation to their campaign donations to Monroe City Councilwoman Margie Rodriguez. You missed the article because the Monitor neglected to report it.”
In contrast to the long delay in publishing results of its own PDC case the Monroe paper routinely publishes timely police crime report news, news of recent highway collisions and news of when the newspaper wins awards for journalism or graphic design.
Former council member Minnick went on to say Monroe Monitor readers have still not been made aware of the Monitor’s “conflict of interest they had in their reporting on the City Council race last year. Did their readers know the Monitor was Rodriguez’ largest campaign donor while they were reading the “news” and the weekly hit columns that made false and frequent accusations?”
Minnick accused the paper of violating the ethical standard fair journalists adhere to.
The July 8, 2008 Monroe Monitor news article on the PDC investigation results, by Monitor Editor Polly Keary, incorrectly reported that only the Monroe Monitor newspaper had been in violation of the law.
In fact both Ken Robinson, the paper’s publisher (acting as a commercial advertiser in his own publication) and the Monroe Monitor newspaper were both found to be in violation of the law according to the PDC’s posted and dated results of enforcement hearings in May of this year.
The same Monroe Monitor article also incorrectly reported the PDC ruled against the Monitor in Mr. Minnick’s complaint “in June” when in fact the PDC ruled much earlier and published the results of the hearing officer’s decision in a state document dated May 23, 2008.
The same July 8th Monitor article failed to disclose that during the 2007 political race between Minnick and Rodriguez that the Monroe Monitor's publisher Ken Robinson made the $1,000 in-kind donation to the Rodriguez campaign of ad space.
Minus that disclosure, readers of the Monroe Monitor were left with the impression, says Minnick, that all ads in the Monitor promoting Ms. Rodriguez were paid for by her campaign.
Minnick added in his column, “The Monitor’s readers assumed the columns and “news” they were getting from their local paper was fair and balanced. But no disclosure of the Monitor’s donations was ever made in their newspaper…Monitor readers had no idea of the newspaper’s inherent bias nor the fact that they were sandbagging for Margie Rodriguez…would you trust the reporting of a newspaper or the opinion of an editor who was heavily invested in a candidate? Or would you assume their conflict of interest made them naturally biased?”
DETAILS OF MINNICK COMPLAINT TO PDC
The July 8, 2008 Monroe Monitor story on the PDC case did not mention the number of times Minnick and a campaign aide anxiously sought the public information from the Monitor in the crucial closing days of the 2007 political election campaign nor did the article mention their apparent frustration with the newspaper’s employees in being told no over and over while the election campaign was rapidly winding down.
Instead the Monitor’s July 8th story referred simply to a problem where “the receptionist didn’t know where the records were” and other employees, including Editor Keary “were unaware of the requirement.”
The PDC compliant filed by Mr. Minnick in January reveals a much different story of the withheld Rodriguez advertising information than the one portrayed in the July 8, 2008 Monroe Monitor news article.
In his complaint to the Public Disclosure Commission Minnick detailed how and when he and his campaign worker tried to get the information from the Monroe Monitor and what they were told. According to Minnick’s PDC complaint:
FRIDAY Oct 19, 2007: Minnick sends email to Monroe Monitor alerting the paper to his desire to view records of who paid for a series of ads (for Ms. Rodriguez) that ran in the paper.
MONDAY Oct. 22, 2007: Nathan Weeks, a Minnick campaign worker, enters Monroe Monitor office during business hours around 4:00 pm. Weeks asks to view the records of payment on the ads run on behalf of Margie Rodriguez in the Monroe Monitor but is told by office manager Kathie Savalesky “the man who handles that is in a meeting.” Weeks is asked to return later.
MONDAY Oct. 22, 2007: Weeks again enters the Monroe Monitor office just before closing time around 5:00 pm and once again was denied access to the records and once again is told by Savalesky “the man who handles that is in a meeting.” No description of who the man in question is. Mr. Weeks was again asked to return later and this time is asked to leave his phone number so a Mr. Robinson can call him when the records are ready. As of November 8, 2007, the date of Minnick’s complaint to the PDC, Minnick said he had not received that call from the Mr. Robinson.
MONDAY Oct. 22, 2007: Minnick sends email to Tony Perkins of the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission informing him of inability to review the records and inability to get Monroe Monitor to turn over the public records on the advertising for his inspection as is required by RCW 42.17.110 and WAC 390-18-050.
TUESDAY Oct. 23, 2007: Mr. Weeks returns again to the Monroe Monitor office and once again is told the records are “not available” and that someone would give him a call “if and when” they were going to be made available. This is the first time, according to the complaint, someone at the Monroe Monitor infers by use of the word “if" that Mr. Minnick might not be allowed by newspaper officials to view the public records he is requesting, as is required by law.
WEDNESDAY Oct. 24, 2007: Minnick receives an email from Tony Perkins of the PDC detailing a conversation Mr. Perkins says he had with the editor of the Monroe Monitor “encouraging them” to “adhere to state law” and make the records available.
WEDNESDAY Oct. 24, 2007: In the afternoon of the 24th Minnick has conversation with Monroe Monitor editor Polly Keary in which Minnick says she told him she would send him an email from Ken Robinson that explained the details of the in-kind advertising donation made to Ms. Rodriguez.
Minnick says Keary’s response when he asked about “the record of payment from Mr. Robinson to Robinson Communications, Inc.” led Minnick to believe, he says, that no payment was ever made or received.
Minnick claims in the complaint he never received the email from Robinson promised by Keary and as of October 24, 2007 the Monitor had not yet made the public records available to him nor had any of the paper’s employees explained to him the payment of $1,000.00 to Robinson Communications for the cost of the newspaper advertisements attributed to the Margie Rodriguez campaign.
The sole remaining Minnick PDC complaint, against Ms. Rodriguez claiming she should have identified the Robinson newspaper company (not Ken Robinson personally) as the source of the in kind advertising contribution has not been ruled on yet by the PDC as of this date.
Update & Editor's Note: Since this article was written we discovered the July 2, 2008 letter from the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission - containing information that should have been included in this report - advising Mr. Minnick of the disposition of his complaint against Ms. Rodriguez (PDS Case No. 08-107).
The PDC report says the complaint against Rodriguez was dismissed after staff investigated the matter and determined that no evidence supported the claim that Ms. Rodriguez or her campaign attempted to conceal the role of Robinson Communications, Inc. in making the $1,000 in-kind contribution (free ads in Monroe Monitor) to the Rodriguez campaign.
Investigators concluded the evidence , including phone calls between Ms. Rodriguez's campaign manager and Ken Robinson, showed the Rodriguez campaign "both desired and attempted to accurately disclose the in-kind contribution."
We regret that this information was not included in the initial story above. Our apologies.
TAGS: Monroe Monitor, Public Disclosure Commission, Robinson Newspapers