Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, Moses Lake, is the focal point of a Republican primary election controversy involving the race between Clint Didier and his opponent Dan Newhouse.
In the midst of the contest for a U.S. House of Representative seat in central Washington which will culminate in an Aug. 5 primary election, Voigt’s involvement on Newhouse’s behalf came into question.
“My campaign team has been contacted by several individuals upset that Dan’s campaign chair (Chris Voigt) is using Washington State resources to promote the campaigns of Newhouse and Sen. Patty Murray,” Didier, in a July 10 statement on his campaign website . “We have in our possession numerous e-mails from Voigt’s state agency e-mail address that bear this out,” he said in the statement.
Voigt, executive director of the Washington Potato Commission, said he is a low-level organizer, serving as Grant County co-captain for the Newhouse campaign.
“I think it is a mountain out of a molehill, but I’m certainly going to cooperate with any ethics investigation,” Voigt said.
Voigt said, as of July 16, he hasn’t been informed of any formal investigation ongoing.
Voigt said the Didier campaign’s accusation that Voigt used taxpayer resources in the campaign was impossible, since the potato commission gets no tax dollars from the state. Potato growers are the only source of funding for the quasi-governmental agency, he said. All commissioners are grower-elected and not political appointees, he said. Even the commission’s domain name on the Web, potatoes.com, is owned by growers, he said.
Voigt said anything related to the campaign was done on his own time and there was no cost incurred to the Washington Potato Commission.
Didier, the Washington State Tea Party conservative candidate, also said in the July 10 statement that he’s concerned about reports that Voigt used government vehicles to deliver Newhouse campaign signs, which he said likely would be a violation of federal law.
David Killeen, investigator for the Washington State Executive Ethics Board, said an investigation into the issue has begun but could not say when it would be completed.
Voigt said he delivered perhaps four or five campaign signs with a car owned by the potato growers — usually on his way to or from work. He said he is authorized to use the car for incidental personal use and also pays a sum deducted from his check for that privilege.
Voigt said Washington potato growers have rallied around him during what he called the mudslinging attack, supporting him with phone calls, messages and e-mails.
“If I did something wrong, I need to know that,” Voigt said.
He said the key question is whether he can use the commission e-mail account for occasional private use.
“I think that is the question the ethics board will review,” he said.