I have been very balanced in my approach to the Hospital Commissioner race in Jefferson County, saying that both candidates are very qualified and worthy of consideration. For the sake of transparency and what I am about to say, I want to make it clear that I have supported Cheri Van Hoover over Bruce McComas, more for her point of view rather than think of Bruce as someone unqualified for the position. Frankly if you look at credentials, it would be great to have them both on the Commissioners.
But in a series of ads running in the Port Townsend Leader and the Peninsula Daily News, Bruce McComas may have broken state law, in showing doctors appearing in uniform supplied by our public hospital or with official employer supplied name badges, standing in what appears to be the hallways of our public hospital or outside the public hospital walls, prescribing Bruce to the readers and public.
The Public Disclosure Commission issued rules and guidelines concerning the use of uniforms in campaigns, and these guidelines are why I believe Bruce’s campaign may have broken state law. RCW 42.17A.335 states that “Political Advertising or electioneering communication – any political advertising that either directly or indirectly implies the support or endorsement of any person or organization when in fact the candidate does not have such support or endorsement as illegal.”
These ads may violate state law in that they “imply” endorsement of an “organization” when in fact the candidate does not have such support or endorsement, because the Doctors in question are clearly wearing identification of the hospital.
RCW 42.17A.555 states that there is to be no use of “public office or agency facilities” in campaigns. Again, the ads in questions appear to be showing the doctors at a public facility endorsing Bruce.
These doctors are considered by the hospital to be a kind of manager. They are in a position of power over nurses and other staff, that have to follow their written directions as part of their job. A doctor could threaten to get a nurse sanctioned. This is something that a former CEO of the mill would understand instinctively.
An article in the The Sentinel, discusses the stresses between doctor and nurse.
There is nothing wrong with these doctors endorsing a candidate. We all have the right to endorse who we wish. It is when you are perceived to be speaking on behalf of a public entity, such as the hospital, that you enter a gray area of election law. The wearing of the hospital uniform is what creates the impression that this is a hospital sponsored endorsement.
All this comes on the heels of a charge filed to the public election commission that Bruce’s supporters inside the hospital were soliciting a voter while she was a patient, which is also a violation of state law.
Eva Raczkowski Bennett has filed a formal complaint with the State Election Commission, charging that hospital employees supporting Bruce McComas attempted to solicit her vote for him while she was a patient at the Jefferson County Hospital. She went on to allege that when she did not respond positively to their solicitations, she felt that her quality of care might be threatened. It is unclear of when or if the state election commission would take up this complaint.