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Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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November 3, 2007 3:39 PM

GOP in with big, last-minute help for Satterberg

Posted by David Postman

The state Republican Party has made a huge, last-minute donation to help acting prosecutor Dan Satterberg keep the office in GOP hands. The county prosecutor has been a Republican for six decades and today Satterberg, as acting prosecutor, is the last Republican to hold a county-wide position in King County.

The party gave Satterberg $81,015 Friday. In total, the state party has given the campaign $126,621 in direct cash support.

Satterberg's Democratic opponent, Bill Sherman, has been worrying about such a last-minute contribution since large donations were made to the party by people connected to Satterberg. In part, Sherman's campaign has pointed to the party donations as evidence that Satterberg is not as non-partisan as he claims. (Satterberg has said he would work to make the office officially non-partisan if elected to a full term Tuesday.)

Recent donations to the state party included $10,000 from Nelson Lee, a deputy county prosecutor. His wife, a cousin and the cousin's business also gave money directly to Satterberg's campaign.

In addition, last month John Hennessy, president and CEO of the construction company Nuprecon, gave the state party $5,000. In 1994 the county prosecutor's office dropped charges against Nuprecon and another construction company for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. The companies had originally been charged after asbestos may have been blown through the ventilation s ystem at Valley Medical Center. The Puget Sound Air Pollution Control Agency had said employees of the companies knew they were breaking the law.

But Satterberg was quoted at the time as saying there was not clear evidence that the workers knew that there was asbestos in the building. The Times reported:

Nuprecon's President John Hennessy was elated. He has claimed his innocence all along and blamed the agency and an assistant prosecutor for "zealotry."

Late last month, Satterberg returned $770 in contributions from Republican activist Lori Sotelo. Satterberg's office had reviewed possible charges against Sotelo in relation to a voting registration challenge she filed, but decided against it. Satterberg said he did not want it ever to look like someone who was not charged later rewarded him with a contribution.

Satterberg told me today he had no concerns about the state party donations.

Satterberg said he didn't know if the $5,000 contribution from Hennessy was fueled by the asbestos case. Satterberg said he talked with Hennessy who told him he's angry that Sherman brings the case up as an example of the prosecutor's office being soft on environmental crime.

"He was livid about that and it was case that should never have been filed."

Satterberg said today there was only the slimmest of evidence of wrongdoing in the asbestos case, based on a whistleblower and no samples of the dust that was allegedly swept into the hospital's ventilation system.

Satterberg said that Hennessy called Sherman after complaining to state Democratic Chairman Dwight Pelz, a friend. Sherman spokesman Sandeep Kaushik confirmed the same details, and said Hennessy did call and talk with Sherman.

He said he was upset after he heard Bill talk about the case and wanted him to stop. He also said he was grateful to Dan and Norm for dismissing the case, that it was a bad case and that there was more to it than had appeared in the papers. Bill told him that he was not going to stop talking about the case, but if Hennessy had more information that would put the situation in a different light, Bill would be happy to take a look at it. Hennessy never followed up or sent him anything.

I'm trying to reach Hennessy.

The Nuprecon case was initially filed by deputy prosecutor Lynn Prunhuber. She has since left the office and has donated $1,400 to Sherman's campaign.

The Sherman campaign sent me a statement saying they "believe this was a well planned scheme to earmark money for the Satterberg campaign in violation of campaign finance limits." Sherman says Satterberg, with the help of the Republican Party, "duped the press and public" by claiming to be non-partisan while counting on GOP money in the final days of the campaign. The statement says:

In his 22 years in the prosecutor's office he never once raised the possibility of making the office a non-partisan one, trumpeting this issue only in the campaign's final weeks. For much of that time we believe he has been fully aware that huge cash infusions from the party would be made in the last days of the campaign to throw the election in his favor, and has made spending decisions accordingly.

Donors cannot earmark party donations for a specific candidate. And state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser said there was no strings attached to any donations.

"I actually am not sure why John Hennessy sent the money. I haven't spoken to him for many months. ... Earmarking is not allowed and we would certainly not allow any contribution that would have any earmark attached to it or pledge, promise or the idea that it would be earmarked."

Hennessy is a regular donor to GOP candidates.

Esser said that the party raised $400,000 in October and Hennessy's donation was only a small portion of that, though he was quick to add how much he appreciated it and hoped for more.

Satterberg said his acceptance of the party money will have no effect on his efforts to make the office non-partisan.

"It is ironic that I'm getting help from the Republican Party even though they are well aware of my desire to make the office non-partisan. I do expect they would rather have me running a non-partisan office than Mr. Sherman running a partisan office."

And he said, the state party may be putting in extra effort "out of respect for Norm" and to keep the prosecutor's office as a Republican bastion.

UPDATE: I talked to Hennessy this evening. He said he didn't try to direct the money in any way. He said if he wanted to influence the prosecutor's race he and his wife could have maxed out to Satterberg.

And he clearly remains angry about the asbestos case.

"This is an example of a prosecutor just out of control. It was just a bizarre case."

Hennessy said he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on attorney fees because he refused for two years to settle the case.

He said he never followed up with Sherman because after talking to the candidate and reviewing the case he felt so angry he had to put it all aside. He said Sherman would not listen to him, even though Hennessy said it was clear Sherman did not know details of the case.

If he was trying to defeat Sherman, he said, "I'd put a lot more money than that in."

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