Rossi must testify in BIAW suit before election
Dino Rossi must testify under oath before next Tuesday's election about his alleged role in illegal campaign coordination with the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), which could take precious time and attention away from his campaign.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Dino Rossi will be pulled off the campaign trail just days before Tuesday's election to testify under oath about allegations that he engaged in illegal campaign coordination with his biggest backers, the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW).
King County Superior Court Judge Paris Kallas denied motions Monday by Rossi and the BIAW to testify after the election as part of a lawsuit against the builders group. Kallas said "prompt investigation" of the coordination charge outweighs the burden of forcing Rossi into a deposition scheduled for Wednesday morning.
Whether that proves harmful or helpful to Rossi remains to be seen, said Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political-science professor. "It could be a game-changer. But it's not necessarily a nail in the coffin for Rossi. It depends on how he responds, what comes out and what the media coverage is," Barreto said.
In her handwritten orders, Kallas said early discovery "allows the parties to confirm — or dispel — the allegations before the election." Rossi, a Republican, is running against Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire in one of the nation's most competitive races for governor.
Rossi's spokeswoman said the lawsuit by two former state Supreme Court justices who support Gregoire accomplished its mission "to generate headlines and keep Dino off the campaign trail during the last week of this campaign."
While it's rarely good news to be deposed a week before an election, Barreto noted that Barack Obama seemed to effectively blunt criticism about his relationship with a 1960s radical, Bill Ayers.
"Obama was able to say this is not germane to an election for president. ... This is an opportunity for Rossi to yell through the smoke screen, to criticize the left and sort of vindicate himself. This could also mobilize his base and spur increased turnout among conservatives," Barreto said.
It's not certain when, where and under what conditions Rossi will be deposed. Knoll Lowney, a lawyer for the two former justices, said he expects to question Rossi for up to four hours, starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Lowney said the questioning would occur in the office of Rossi's lawyer, Mike Patterson, as long as there's enough room for interested parties.
Lowney wants to invite the media and plans to provide a transcript of Rossi's testimony as quickly as possible. "The judge made it pretty clear this is about public information. Consistent with that, we think it should be public," he said.
Rossi's spokeswoman Jill Strait said she didn't know if Rossi would testify Wednesday and whether the media could attend. "We'll comply with the judge's order, which is [to testify] before November 4th," she said.
The lawsuit by former Justices Faith Ireland and Robert Utter accuses Rossi of coordinating with fundraising by the BIAW, which has spent $6.3 million in an independent campaign backing Rossi. State law forbids a candidate from coordinating with an independent campaign because that would make limits on direct contributions to candidates toothless.
Rossi is not a defendant in the lawsuit, which seeks to halt the BIAW's political spending in the campaign.
Rossi has denied participating in illegal fundraising and says he has nothing to hide.
Lowney, though, 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. But even if he had discussed money, Rossi has said that would be allowed because he hadn't become a candidate yet.
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 that if the truth of Rossi's role in BIAW fundraising is not learned until after the election, then campaign laws requiring timely disclosure of contributions would be irrelevant.
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or email@example.com
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