One of this year’s most egre­gious polit­i­cal ads is the Big Oil-fund­ed spot against Ini­tia­tive 1631 that stars for­mer Repub­li­can guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Rob McKen­na. In the ad, McKen­na casts him­self as a cham­pi­on for con­sumer pro­tec­tion and tells vot­ers they should vote against I‑1631, the well-thought out plan to put a price on pol­luters and use the mon­ey to fund a just and respon­si­ble tran­si­tion to a clean ener­gy future… with­out dis­clos­ing that he rep­re­sents one of those oil companies.

“As Attor­ney Gen­er­al, con­sumer pro­tec­tion was my top pri­or­i­ty,” McKen­na says as the ad opens. “That’s why I’m speak­ing out against I‑1631.”

(It should be not­ed that the per­son who cur­rent serves as Wash­ing­ton’s Attor­ney Gen­er­al — that would be Bob Fer­gu­son — is sup­port­ing I‑1631.)

McKen­na goes on to duti­ful­ly recite Big Oil’s talk­ing points against I‑1631. At no point does he dis­close that he is being paid by Chevron for legal services.

In response to McKen­na’s fla­grant chi­canery, the non­prof­it cam­paign finance watch­dog Wash­ing­to­ni­ans For Eth­i­cal Gov­ern­ment — which I serve as Pres­i­dent of — filed a com­plaint this week with the Wash­ing­ton State Bar Asso­ci­a­tion urg­ing that McKen­na be dis­ci­plined for his uneth­i­cal conduct.

“Big Oil is spend­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to lie to the peo­ple, but as a Wash­ing­ton lawyer, McKen­na can­not strength­en those lies by con­ceal­ing that he is a tool of Big Oil,” WFEG coun­sel Knoll Lowney said in our press release announc­ing the com­plaint. “He is not speak­ing as a con­sumer advo­cate or attor­ney gen­er­al; he is Chevron’s lawyer. McKen­na should be sanc­tioned for vio­lat­ing the eth­i­cal rules.”

Big Oil has spent over $28 mil­lion on a slick cam­paign intend­ed to cajole Wash­ing­to­ni­ans into vot­ing against I‑1631, which NPI strong­ly sup­ports. The oil com­pa­nies’ gush­er of an effort to defeat I‑1631 has already set a new record for the most mon­ey spent against an ini­tia­tive in Wash­ing­ton State history.

As you can see, the top con­trib­u­tors to No on I‑1631 are all hideous­ly wealthy oil com­pa­nies: BP, Phillips 66, Andeav­or, and Valero. Even Koch Indus­tries and Chevron have got­ten in on the action. BP — whose Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon rig caused cat­a­stroph­ic destruc­tion in the Gulf of Mex­i­co eight years ago — has under­writ­ten much of the cam­paign, writ­ing an $11 mil­lion check from its Hous­ton headquarters.

Although hard­ly any of the cam­paign’s mon­ey is com­ing from with­in the state, there are peo­ple based who are will­ing to car­ry Big Oil’s black goo for them.

Peo­ple like Rob McKen­na and his seem­ing­ly-always-grumpy advi­sor Randy Pep­ple, who tried to brush off WFEG’s com­plaint as friv­o­lous in an inter­view with KOMO.

Pep­ple — whose name amus­ing­ly got tran­scribed as “Rainy Peb­bles” by the tool that flagged his com­ments — called Wash­ing­to­ni­ans For Eth­i­cal Gov­ern­ment a “front” for the Yes on I‑1631 campaign.

“It’s a mer­it­less com­plaint that’s filed by a front group for a cam­paign that is upset that Rob McKen­na’s mes­sage has mer­it,” Pep­ple said.

Way to miss the point, Randy. It’s not what McKen­na said WFEG finds upset­ting, it’s what he did­n’t say — specif­i­cal­ly, that he is Chevron’s lawyer.

Plen­ty of orga­ni­za­tions oper­at­ing in the polit­i­cal sphere could be called front groups (like “Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­i­ty”, an arm of the Koch Broth­ers), but WFEG, con­trary to Pep­ple’s state­ment, is not a front for the I‑1631 cam­paign or any oth­er cam­paign. It was cre­at­ed back in 2016 by activists want­i­ng to cham­pi­on time­ly and effec­tive enforce­ment of Wash­ing­ton State’s pub­lic dis­clo­sure laws and ethics codes.

WFEG’s found­ing, inci­den­tal­ly, pre­dates Repub­li­can oper­a­tive and dirty trick­ster Glen Mor­gan’s weaponiza­tion of Chap­ter 42.17A RCW on behalf of right wing forces like the out­fits that Pep­ple advis­es and con­sults for.

Pep­ple also groused that “these same groups that are now com­plain­ing about Rob” opposed Ini­tia­tive 732 in 2016. That’s Car­bon­WA’s pol­lu­tion pric­ing mea­sure from two years ago, which McKen­na decid­ed to endorse in the cam­paign’s last days.

This com­ment is per­plex­ing con­sid­er­ing that the coali­tion sup­port­ing I‑1631 includes both orga­ni­za­tions that sup­port­ed I‑732 two years ago (includ­ing Car­bon­WA) as well as groups that opposed it. The entire coali­tion is unhap­py with the many fab­ri­ca­tions and dis­hon­est state­ments com­ing out of the NO on I‑1631 cam­paign, not just the orga­ni­za­tions that took a posi­tion oppos­ing I‑732.

As for WFEG, it has no posi­tion on I‑1631 and had no posi­tion on I‑732 either.

WFEG is not a polit­i­cal com­mit­tee. It does­n’t take posi­tions on bal­lot mea­sures, it does­n’t endorse can­di­dates, and it does­n’t par­tic­i­pate in any elec­toral activ­i­ties. It is a cam­paign & ethics watch­dog — noth­ing more, and noth­ing less.

When peo­ple like Rob McKen­na behave uneth­i­cal­ly, Wash­ing­to­ni­ans For Eth­i­cal Gov­ern­ment seeks to hold them account­able. That’s why it exists.

Rob McKen­na delib­er­ate­ly chose to deceive Wash­ing­to­ni­ans by appear­ing in an ad on behalf of Big Oil with­out dis­clos­ing in the ad that he rep­re­sents Chevron.

That was a grave error on his part.

As WFEG’s com­plaint doc­u­ments, McKen­na did­n’t just fail to dis­close. He took mea­sures to con­ceal his rela­tion­ship with Chevron by alter­ing his LinkedIn pro­file to remove a ref­er­ence to Chevron. His fail­ure to be forth­right with the peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton is uneth­i­cal con­duct for which he ought to be sanc­tioned. As McKen­na him­self proud­ly says, he is a for­mer Attor­ney Gen­er­al, and he ought to know better.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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One reply on “Washingtonians For Ethical Government files bar complaint against Rob McKenna”

  1. Rob McKen­na pitch­es prod­ucts reg­u­lar­ly on KIRO like Catlin Cap­i­tal and Ter­ra Fir­ma. I just don’t think it’s real­ly appropriate.

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