OLYMPIA — The Legislative Ethics Board has dismissed a complaint filed in March that alleged state Rep. Michelle Caldier violated legislative ethics laws by asking that $81,000 in state funding be directed to the nonprofit ARC of the Peninsulas, which is led by her fiance.
The nonprofit agency, which advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has as its CEO Caldier’s fiance, Chris Tibbs.
Caldier requested a capital budget appropriation during the 2017 legislative session for repairs to a building owned by the ARC of the Peninsulas. The ethics board reported that Tibbs had requested the appropriation through the state legislator’s office.
In its order to dismiss the complaint, the legislative board ruled Caldier, a two-term Republican, “did not receive any private financial gain” as a result of her actions. The board stated that “introducing and lobbying for the passage of legislation is the heart of legislative activity” and is part of the “normal and regular” conduct of a legislator.
Robert Parker, a South Kitsap resident and community activist, filed the complaint alleging that because of Caldier’s personal connection with Tibbs, she violated the Ethics in Public Service Act, which includes provisions prohibiting elements of conflict of interest, special privileges and personal gain by state legislators and employees.
Caldier said Parker filed the complaint at the behest of her Republican primary candidate, Randy Boss, a contractor from Gig Harbor.
“[The complaint] was filed by one of my opponent’s supporters,” Caldier said. “My opponent wrapped his entire campaign so far around the ethics complaint, putting out misleading flyers. There’s also a video put out through independent expenditures attacking me, as well.
“The taxpayers should be paid back for the false complaint that was put against me for political purposes. These shenanigans need to stop.”
Parker also alleged that by co-sponsoring legislation in 2015 and 2017 to repair the Turner Joy museum ship and create a passenger-only ferry from Bremerton to Seattle, Caldier had furthered the financial interests of Tibbs, who was a lobbyist with Westsound Strategic Partners.
In its findings of fact, however, the ethics board stated that Tibbs’ clients at Westsound were Mason County and the Bremerton Historic Ships Association — but that he had never lobbied for Kitsap Transit, nor was the transit agency a client of Westsound’s. The board also found that while Tibbs lobbied on behalf of the historic ships association, he was not paid for his efforts.
Tibbs was hired as executive director by ARC of Kitsap and Jefferson (now named ARC of the Peninsulas) in January 2017. Later that month, he sent Caldier an email with a state budget request for the ARC capital project. Caldier subsequently submitted the $80,855 budget request to the House capital budget chair.
In the ethics board report findings, the state representative said she first heard about the ARC project from Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent, who wanted to use a portion of the ARC building as an emergency cooling/heating center. Without HVAC upgrades, the mayor noted, it could not be used as an emergency center.
When asked by board staff why she made the facilities request for a building not in her district, Caldier said it provides services to people who live nearby in her district.
The budget request was included in the capital budget that passed in January 2018. The ethics board found that Tibbs did not benefit monetarily from the appropriation action — he did not receive a salary increase or a bonus as a result. The board’s statement noted that the nonprofit agency has not yet received the appropriation.
Responding to the complaint that Caldier and Tibbs financially benefited as a result of their personal relationship, the ethics board wrote that the couple is not married, nor do they live together.
“Rep. Caldier’s actions appear to be those encompassing the ‘heart of legislative activity’ for which she did not receive any private financial gain.’”
Caldier said she was troubled by the ethics allegation, particularly in its linkage to ARC of the Peninsulas. The state representative, who lived in foster care for a portion of her youth, related that she shared a room in the seventh and eighth grade with a severely autistic girl. Caldier said her roommate attended an ARC-sponsored dance each Friday, and still does some 30 years later.
“The ARC does a phenomenal job of serving individuals with developmental disabilities. When I learned the air conditioning went out [at the ARC facility], I think they should be able to jam out and be comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with that, regardless whether my fiance worked there. I would do everything I possibly could to help individuals with developmental disabilities.
“It’s sad they would take something so wonderful and twist it into something so horrible,” said of the ethics complaint. “It’s wrong.”