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Complaint Against Criminal Justice Tax To Be Considered by Public Disclosure Commission

Benton County Criminal Tax challenge
Benton County Criminal Tax challenge (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

While some ballots are still being tabulated it appears the Benton County Criminal Justice tax has passed.    But it could potentially face a hurdle.

The tax, which adds $.3 cents to every $10 dollar purchase, will provide funding for a wide variety of criminal justice programs in the county.  They would include more officers,  beef up anti-gang programs, and provide for a mental health court.    The most recent updates had the measure passing by about 54-55%, and those involved in the ballot counting say it is almost certain to stay that way.

A complaint has been filed against the measure by the group Benton County Citizens for Efficient Criminal Justice.   Radphord-Leon Howard of Richland is one of the leaders of the group, and he filed a complaint with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission earlier this summer.   The group hasn’t publicly disagreed with the need for the funding, but claims numerous campaign laws were broken by the supporters.  The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) oversees and enforces all laws related to political elections and campaigns.

The following groups have been named in the complaint:

Tri-Cities Hotel and Motel Association, Steven Keane, West
.Richland Police Offic.ers Association, Kennewick Police Officers Benefit, Kennewick
Police Management Association, Kennewick Police Department Foundation, Tri-City
Fraternal Order -of Police Lodge #7.

  The group claims these supporters of the tax violated the Revised Code of Washington, specifically RCW 42.17A concerning use of public funds and entities for campaign purposes. From related court and legal documents:

· Mr. Howard alleges that this individual and these entities violated state laws regarding the proper  use of public resources for political purposes and agency fees for campaign contributions~ He. also alleges that certain of these groups improperly used “tax exempt” funds to make political contributions in violation of federal laws.

As of August 8th, the Washington State Attorney General’s office has asked the Public Disclosure Commission to review the situation thoroughly, then let them know if an AG investigation is necessary.   From a letter sent to the PDC from the AG’s office by Senior Assistant Atty. General Linda Dalton:

These allegations are being referred to your agency for review and possible investigation. My office will await the results of that review and any action from the Commission.


Howard and the citizens group say this type of investigation is very significant.  If violations of the RCW are found, they say it could result in voiding that portion of the election.


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