'Fishy' settlement checks from state's Democratic AG mailed to Washingtonians, even those dead for decades

“It's a mess, Ari. It's a typical bureaucratic screw-up.”

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA

Washingtonians are crying "fowl" over checks showing up in the mail from the state’s Democratic Attorney General and candidate for governor, Bob Ferguson, that are addressed to people who have been dead for decades.

The Ari Hoffman Show on Talk Radio 570 KVI obtained dozens of pictures of the checks, proceeds from the settlement of a chicken and tuna price-fixing lawsuit, sent to people who have never lived in Washington state, have been dead for decades and even combinations of names of members of a household.

Over 440,000 Washingtonians were supposed to get the checks this month from the settlement, totaling $40.6 million, if their income is at or below 175 percent of the federal poverty level, $52,000 for a family of four. According to the Washington Policy Center, 15 percent of the state’s population, approximately 402,200 Washington households, are supposed to receive checks for $50 or $120 for households with two people or more.

Washington State GOP Chair Rep. Jim Walsh told Hoffman “It's a mess, Ari. It's a typical bureaucratic screw-up.”

He added that the Attorney General's office “…got a list, and they're not being clear about where they got this list of people that they said were low-income Washingtonians, and they just started sending the checks out to them willy nilly. And it turns out whatever list it is they got was really flawed. It was really out of date. It included a significant number of people who've been dead, not for like a few months, but for like 20 years? 25 years? And they started sending checks out to these people.”

One of the checks was even sent to Walsh's wife who passed away last year.

“There are other problems on this list too,” he continued. “People's names are screwed up. So even if they try to deposit one of these $50 checks or $120 checks, they have trouble with their bank because the name is spelled differently. It's just a real mess. And the obvious question is why was the State Attorney General putting his name on these checks that he sent out to people who may or may not have bought tuna or chicken? It looks like it's an attempt to do some electioneering.”

Making things worse for Ferguson is an ethics complaint that could potentially cost his campaign for governor millions in fines.

The Center Square obtained the complaint, filed with the State Auditor's Office to avoid a conflict of interest because the State Ethics Board is staffed by Attorney General’s Office employees, stating that the checks have Ferguson's name as the payer. Enclosed was also a letter sent by the attorney general to Washingtonians stating that "…one of my top priorities is protecting consumers from fraud and deception. When corporations do not play by the rules, my team and I take action. I am returning the money to Washingtonians, like you, who were harmed by their illegal conduct."

The ethics complaint filed with the State Ethics Board alleges that the stunt was an illegal use of taxpayer dollars to support Ferguson's gubernatorial campaign. According to the complaint, "Bob Ferguson decided to send checks to hundreds of thousands or millions of lower-income people, giving them a portion of the settlement with chicken and tuna companies. He put his name on the check as the payer, and he attached a letter to the checks that is blatant and illegal campaigning with public funds."

The complaint claimed it is a "blatant violation" of state law for Ferguson “…during an active campaign for governor, to send money to voters and have the checks indicate that it is coming from him by name and to include a letter extolling his virtues. It is absolutely, undeniably, attempting to buy people's votes."

If found guilty, Ferguson's campaign could be fined up to $5,000 per violation.

Many drew a comparison to then President Donald Trump’s actions during the pandemic, insisting that his name was on COVID relief checks that went out to Americans and could not help but notice that Ferguson, who made a name for himself by constantly suing the Trump administration, appeared to be emulating the former president’s behavior.

In a statement to local media, Ferguson’s office blamed Experian, a date brokerage company. “We worked with Experian, so it’s not our list. We went to a data broker or somebody who would have, what we believed, to be as reliable a list as can exist for sending out 400,000 checks to Washingtonians. Obviously, on a data set that large, the system’s not going to be perfect.”

Walsh noted that a number of the people who have sent him pictures of the fishy checks have said, “’I'm also getting, you know, election ballots in grandpa's name or my great aunt's name at the house.’ And so they wonder whether this corrupted list that the State Attorney General used was somehow tied to voter rolls.”

The Evergreen State has been voting by mail for more than a decade. “And that, right or wrong,” Walsh continued, “does draw good attention on this issue of the state of our voter rolls in Washington. The condition of our voter databases, registered voter databases, is not great and needs to be cleaned up more effectively than it is currently, and there is reasonable suspicion … that there may be some overlap here.”

“And it doesn't look good for the State Attorney General. I think this thing has kind of backfired on him. He may have thought he was being clever to get his name on the checks, but the way it's going, I don't think it's going to shine very well on his, uh, his mode of operation.”

Rather than issue a formal statement on the hundreds if not thousands of errors, Ferguson’s office released a letter on Wednesday attempting to distract from the controversy by crowing about his other legal “wins.” The money is coming from a restitution settlement with major chicken and tuna producers who were sued by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Attorneys from Ferguson's office asserted the producers conspired to increase the prices consumers pay for their products.

Residents who believe they are entitled to a settlement payment can verify their eligibility at refundcheck.wa.gov

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