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Originally published Thursday, October 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Rossi fights to avoid testifying about illegal-fundraising allegations

Dino Rossi does not want to testify under oath before the Nov. 4 election about allegations he illegally coordinated campaign fundraising with his biggest supporter, the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW).

Seattle Times staff reporter

Dino Rossi does not want to testify under oath before the Nov. 4 election about allegations he illegally coordinated campaign fundraising with his biggest supporter, the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW).

Rossi is fighting an effort to be deposed next week as part of a lawsuit by two former state Supreme Court justices who support Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire in her re-election campaign against Rossi.

Rossi's lawyer and campaign spokeswoman say the lawsuit is a political maneuver aimed at distracting him before the last gubernatorial debate on Wednesday. They want to delay any deposition until after the election.

"This is nothing more than a partisan stunt to waste our time," said Jill Strait, Rossi's spokeswoman. "Do you think Christine Gregoire would agree to talk to a partisan Republican lawyer on October 15th about tribal gaming compacts? Probably not."

Rossi is not a defendant in the lawsuit, which seeks to halt the BIAW's political spending in the last weeks of the campaign. The suit was filed Monday in King County Superior Court.

Aaron Ostrom, a liberal activist, questioned Rossi's decision to fight the deposition. "It sounds to me like he's got something to hide," said Ostrom, who heads the group Fuse, which has criticized the BIAW campaign.

Strait and Rossi's lawyer, Mike Patterson, strongly deny that Rossi participated in illegal fundraising and say he has nothing to hide.

"He's not unwilling to answer questions," Patterson said. "He's just not going to allow the legal process to be misused. We're not going to turn political races into lawsuits."

Knoll Lowney, the lawyer for former justices Faith Ireland and Robert Utter, wants Rossi to testify under oath on Wednesday — also the day that absentee ballots are available in the election.

Lowney wants to question Rossi about his possible role in raising money for BIAW's independent campaign to elect him governor. The builders' group has spent $2 million this year, mostly on ads attacking Gregoire.

If Rossi was involved in fundraising, the lawsuit argues that BIAW's spending is not truly an independent campaign and violates limits on political contributions. Lowney points to phone calls Rossi made to leaders of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties in May 2007, while that BIAW affiliate was considering whether to contribute to the BIAW's political fund.

Rossi has said he was only trying to mend a rift between the two groups. Rossi said he didn't discuss any specifics about money. But even if he had, Rossi said that would be allowed because he hadn't become a candidate yet.

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He became a candidate in October 2007, according to an earlier investigation by the state Public Disclosure Commission in response to an unrelated complaint by the Democratic Party. The commission dismissed that complaint.

Lowney says Rossi's phone calls suggest he became a candidate when he generally assisted in fundraising from BIAW affiliates. "Under the law you become a candidate when you start raising money," he said.

Strait maintains that Rossi didn't talk about specific fundraising and he could "speak about whatever he wanted to" before he decided to run.

She also noted that Rossi testified last year under oath in the Public Disclosure Commission investigation of the unrelated allegation that was dismissed.

"How much time is he supposed to devote to Democratic depositions in the last weeks of the campaign?" she asked.

Information from a previous Associated Press report is included in this story.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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