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Official fined for e-mail violation

January 17, 2001

OLYMPIA — State Treasurer Mike Murphy has agreed to pay a $1,200 fine for illegally sending campaign-related e-mails to seven state employees' job computers during his fall re-election campaign.

Murphy, a longtime Olympia Democrat who was just elected to his second term, was unrepentant Tuesday.

Murphy said his actions were unwitting and declared that he had a First Amendment right to send the campaign-related e-mails.

It is illegal under state law to use state facilities to aid a campaign, according to the agreement Murphy reached with the state Executive Ethics Board, which investigates allegations of misconduct by state officials.

Murphy has 10 days to pay the fine out of his own pocket, said Brian Malarky, executive director of the ethics board.

The violation was considered fairly serious, and that is reflected in the size of the settlement amount, Malarky said.

Ethics board members accepted the settlement with Murphy on Thursday.

According to Murphy's agreement with the ethics board, the treasurer last fall sent a campaign-related e-mail to 582 members of the Washington Finance Officers Association, which includes 527 people associated with state or local governments.

Murphy removed the addresses of employees in the offices of state treasurer and state auditor, but overlooked seven state-government employees.

Murphy used his home computer last September to send the messages, which included an exhortation "to cast your vote for Mike Murphy in the Nov. 7 election."

Although Murphy expressed no sorrow Tuesday, his e-mails carried an apology, saying: "Sorry to have sent this to your work address."

Murphy's e-mails went on to ask the recipients to forward the messages to their home computers, then to resend them to everyone on their mailing lists.

Because of a loophole in the state ethics law, mailings that went to local government employees did not trigger sanctions, Malarky said.

Malarky said the law that pertains to state employees deals only with state agency equipment.

But Murphy insisted he did nothing wrong.

Murphy said he settled because it was cheaper than challenging the ethics board in Superior Court.

Murphy said that, based on past decisions by the board, he didn't believe he'd win in a hearing before the board.

"The fact of the matter was (that) I was using my home computer, my home server, sending out information to a number of groups," Murphy said. "I removed — I believe it was 23 names — that I recognized that were going to state offices. I missed seven. To me that was totally inadvertent.''

Murphy estimated it would have cost $3,000 to $4,000 just to challenge the allegations before the ethics board.

The ethics board has jurisdiction over ethical complaints against non-legislative state agency employees.

Murphy also said his actions were as harmless as those of campaigns that sent him fliers at the Treasurer's Office last fall.

Asked who sent him that material, Murphy replied, "I threw it away."

The ethics board's action against Murphy was done without directly notifying the media, but that wasn't intentional on the board's part, said Malarky, who took over as executive in September.

Malarky said that his predecessor used to send agenda notices to the media, but he assumed it would be adequate to post them on the Internet, which he did in this case.

"I am going to change that," Malarky said. "I've purchased equipment to make that change."

BRAD SHANNON, The Olympian © 2000


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