PSE files complaint against PUD group

Puget Sound Energy accused supporters of the effort to create a Whidbey-based electric company of breaking state law in their campaign to take over PSE’s territory on the island.

PSE has filed a complaint with the state Public Disclosure Commission against the Washington Public Utilities Association for paying a salary to Dave Metheny, director of the “People For Yes On Whidbey PUD” campaign.

The complaint, filed Sept. 12 by the law firm Perkins Coie of Bellevue, alleges that the trade organization violated state law when it paid Metheny stipends to act as a local liaison for the association.

The complaint cited news coverage by The Record as proof of the pro-PUD group’s alleged misdeeds.

PSE’s lawyers claim in the complaint that the Washington Public Utilities Association is the functional equivalent of a public agency and is therefore subject to the Public Disclosure Act, the state law that regulates campaigns. The company’s lawyers claim the association is a public agency because it serves a public purpose, is publicly funded, run by government officials and is created by government officials.

Based on that assumption, PSE lawyers claim that the Washington Public Utilities Association used “public funds and/or facilities, including the use of employees to promote a ballot measure” by paying Metheny’s salary.

Dean Boyer, a spokesman for the Washington Public Utility Districts Association, said the allegations lack substance.

“The PSE complaint apparently alleges that the Washington Public Utility District Association is a public agency and therefore precluded from contributing to the ‘Yes on Whidbey PUD’ campaign,” he said.

“We are not a public agency,” he said, adding that the organization is classified as a nonprofit trade association.

“This is an old and very tired attempt by Puget Sound Energy to eliminate any effort at countering the misinformation PSE is spreading about public power and the viability of public power districts on Whidbey Island and in Skagit and Jefferson counties,” Boyer added.

PSE’s lawyers also claim that the Washington Public Utilities Association used public funds to pay for monetary donations to the campaign, as well as for in-kind donations that paid for yard signs and staff time.

The complaint also alleges that public money was spent on political advertising, the group’s Web site and its newsletter.

PSE spokeswoman Gretchen Aliabadi said it’s now up to the Public Disclosure Commission to examine the issues.

“This is an issue of fundamental fairness. These laws are in place for a reason,” she said. “It’s now up to the PDC to take it from here.”

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