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Originally published February 23, 2013 at 12:21 AM | Page modified February 23, 2013 at 8:47 PM

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State Senate Dems probe potential misspent funds

An investigation into the possible misuse of funds raised by the Democrat’s state Senate campaign committee was triggered by unusual polling expenses.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

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OLYMPIA — An investigation into possible misuse of funds at the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign Committee (SDCC) was triggered by unusual polling expenses after the 2012 election cycle ended.

“This is what triggered the whole situation. During the campaign we had all these reimbursements for things like polling and auto dialing. Those are normal expenses you would expect during the peak of the campaign. But then they continued in December and January,” said Jason Bennett, a partner at Argo Strategies, who was in charge of compliance for the committee.

Bennett said he reported that information to the SDCC leadership on Feb. 20 and they launched an investigation into the executive director’s handling of the committee’s funds.

The executive director, Michael King, joined the SDCC in 2011, according to a biography on the group’s website. King did not respond to a phone call and message left on his cellphone.

The SDCC learned of a potential misappropriation Wednesday, according to a statement released late Friday by Pacifica Law Group, which the SDCC has hired to conduct the investigation.

Pacifica is working with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the Seattle Police Department and the Washington state Public Disclosure Commission on the investigation, according to the statement.

No charges have been filed, according to Paul Lawrence, an attorney with Pacifica.

Democratic Sens. David Frockt, Sharon Nelson and Ed Murray, all of Seattle, serve as co-chairs of the committee. Murray is also the state Senate Democratic leader and is running for mayor of Seattle.

All three senators, interviewed on Saturday, said the day-to-day job of running the committee was left to the executive director and they did not closely track the flow of money in and out of the SDCC’s accounts.

“I didn’t feel like that was what I was there to do. I thought I was there to be part of the political team to help us win the Senate,” Frockt said. “Our job was not to come in and be the CFO of the campaign committee.”

All three senators said they would jointly make decisions regarding how to spend money in terms which races to put money into and certain polls. But the details were left to the executive director.

It’s not clear how much money is in question. Initial estimates range from $30,000 to more than $100,000, according to one of the sources.

The SDCC raised $1.06 million and spent $1.02 million in 2012, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or agarber@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @awgarber. Brian M. Rosenthal: 360-236-8267 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.

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