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Investigation In Washington State Finds Over 20K of taxpayer money improperly spent

KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) — An investigation in Washington state has found more than $20,000 of taxpayer money improperly went to support a failed campaign in 2017 for improvements at a convention center in Kennewick.

The Kennewick Public Facilities District faces fines up to $10,000 for each violation, the Tri-City Herald reported. The district must now decide whether to negotiate a settlement or challenge the allegations.

The state Public Disclosure Commission conducted the investigation, revealing the district spent money on a website, advertisements, a banner and fliers that were meant to sway voters to support a 0.2% sales tax increase.

The tax bump would have paid for an expansion at the Three Rivers Convention Center, an upgrade for the Toyota Center and other improvements at the center’s campus. The measure failed by 1,300 votes.

Commission Executive Director Frey Lavallee made the eight-page notice of administrative charges public on Thursday, detailing how the district’s board allegedly violated state law.

Former Kennewick Mayor Vic Epperly and Pasco activist Roger Lenk each filed a complaint three years ago. The agency was delayed in making a ruling because of a backlog of investigations and a lack of staffing.

The state Legislature authorizes cities, towns, metro areas and counties to form public facilities districts to promote economic development. The district can then use its tax revenue to finance, design, remodel, maintain or operate its facilities.

It can also spend money on providing basic information about ballot proposals under state law but is prohibited from paying employees to organize campaign efforts, paying to mail campaign materials and letting the campaign access equipment the public can’t access.

The district maintained in a statement that the materials were meant to explain the issue to voters and didn’t break campaign rules.

“The KPFD board is committed to ensuring that all laws related to ballot propositions are followed correctly and are looking forward to a final resolution of this matter,” the statement said.

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