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Originally published Saturday, September 9, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Election 2006

State GOP leader asks Cantwell, lobbyist to disclose loan details

The head of the state Republican Party on Friday called on Sen. Maria Cantwell and political operative Ron Dotzauer to disclose details...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The head of the state Republican Party on Friday called on Sen. Maria Cantwell and political operative Ron Dotzauer to disclose details of their financial relationship.

At issue is a personal loan of $15,000 to $50,000 from Cantwell to Dotzauer and his role as a federal lobbyist.

"The question is: Can he lobby her when he owes her money?" asked GOP Chairwoman Diane Tebelius.

Tebelius' comments came after The Associated Press reported that Cantwell had secured millions of dollars that helped Dotzauer's clients.

Much of the money, about $3 million, was directed to the Army Corps of Engineers to build a new barrier dam to help salmon near Lake Tapps. The Cascade Water Alliance, a group of eight Eastside cities and water districts, sought the funding along with Puget Sound Energy, which owns dikes and other infrastructure along the lake.

The Cascade Water Alliance hired Dotzauer's firm in 2002 to lobby Congress on water issues.

Rep. Dave Reichert and former Rep. Jennifer Dunn, both Republicans, also advocated for the project, said officials from Puget Sound Energy and Cascade Water Alliance. Tebelius agreed that the projects had popular support.

Dotzauer and Cantwell have know each other since the 1980s, and he ran her successful Senate campaign in 2000. He became a registered federal lobbyist in 2002.

In an interview with The Seattle Times last May, Dotzauer said he was not personally involved in lobbying for Lake Tapps, but a member of his public-affairs firm, Strategies 360, accompanied local lawmakers as they made the rounds on Capitol Hill.

Grant Degingger, mayor of Bellevue and chairman of the Cascade Water Alliance, said the group hired Dotzauer's firm because Dotzauer was already working for Puget Sound Energy. In addition, Dotzauer had political contacts within Seattle City Hall, which also has a stake in regional water issues.

"It's not unusual to have a group like the Cascade Water Alliance have a public-affairs firm assisting them," Degingger said.

In May, Dotzauer said he has never spoken with Cantwell about any of his clients.

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In a prepared statement, Michael Meehan, an aide for Cantwell, said: "Senator Cantwell has fought for nearly 6 years for the Lake Tapps water project, long before Mr. Dotzauer started working on the project."

As for the 1999 loan, which first appeared in financial disclosure documents in 2001, Meehan said "when a friend needed help, she was lucky to be in a position to loan him money ... . It's cynical to imply that her efforts for the Northwest were swayed because she is owed money from a friend."

Dotzauer has said he doesn't remember why he obtained the loan or why it hasn't been paid off. The loan's reported value — $15,000 to $50,000 — is the range contained in Cantwell's financial disclosure forms.

It's an uncommon financial arrangement, said Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group. But personal loans from supporters to lawmakers are more scrutinized because of the possibility that sweetheart deals could influence legislation. Cantwell's situation raises fewer alarms, he said.

"It sounds unusual. It doesn't sound concerning," Ritsch said.

A year before he got the loan from Cantwell, Dotzauer was ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars related to a divorce settlement that had gone unpaid for nearly three years, court records show. A King County Superior Court summary of the judgment listed the amount as $85,922.

When the divorce was finalized in 1995, he was ordered to pay his ex-wife $60,000. His wages were garnished and he was twice cited for contempt of court the following year when he failed to make scheduled payments on the debt.

Attorney David Balint, who was hired by Dotzauer's ex-wife, said the debt eventually was paid, but he could not recall the date and his client's file was in remote storage.

Dotzauer couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

Seattle Times staff reporter Susan Kelleher contributed to this report.

Alex Fryer: 206-464-8124 or afryer@seattletimes.com

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