by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
I'm writing this story in the first person because it's about me.
More precisely, it's about a conversation I had with a news source - Alex Hays, executive director of Mainstream Republicans.
I spoke with Hays for a story I was doing about Hans Zeiger, Republican legislative candidate in the 25th District.
On September 2, the political blog HorsesAss broke the story that Zeiger wrote some outrageously anti-Gay articles for right-wing blogs WorldNetDaily and Intellectual Conservative.
When I read the HorsesAss story, I followed the links to Zeiger's articles, and they were every bit as bad as HorsesAss said they were.
After reading them, I had an irresistible impulse to know more about this guy, so I went to his campaign website.
To my surprise, I found he'd been endorsed by Mainstream Republicans - an organization that claims political inspiration from the moderate live-and-let-live Republican politics of former governor Dan Evans.
They didn't seem like the kind of crowd to endorse a right-wing fanatic.
"There's a story there," I thought to myself, so I called and e-mailed Mainstream Republicans for an explanation of their endorsement.
Within a couple of hours, Hays called me back.
HorsesAss was wrong, he said. In fact, they were "intellectually dishonest" to take five- or six-year-old blog posts out of context and use them to defame Zeiger.
Zeiger has grown and matured since he wrote those blog posts, Hays told me. He is a changed man, a centrist Republican now.
Later that day, I spoke with Hans Zeiger himself, and he told me the same thing.
I've already written that part of the story, and you can read it for yourself here: www.sgn.org/sgnnews38_37/page3.cfm.
The new part of the story is about Hays.
On Friday, September 17, David Goldstein of HorsesAss e-mailed me and asked me whether Hays had disclosed to me that he is a paid consultant for Zeiger's campaign.
Goldstein thoughtfully attached a copy of a PDC form showing that Zeiger had paid AB Hays LLC for professional consulting services.
According to the PDC, Zeiger paid Hays a total of $6,000 in three separate payments in August.
Immediately I checked my notes.
Here's what Hays told me about his relationship with Zeiger: that he was a personal friend, and that he'd given Zeiger advice on the campaign.
Not a word about being paid.
So I e-mailed Hays and asked him four questions:
o Will you confirm that you are a paid consultant to Hans Zeiger's campaign?
o Have you been paid as a consultant to any other 2010 candidates?
o Did your professional relationship with Hans Zeiger influence Mainstream Republicans' endorsement of him?
o What is the process Mainstream Republicans uses to determine endorsements?
This is what Hays answered:
"In the interview I did with you I noted that I was an advisor to Hans and his campaign and a personal friend.
"From your e-mail it appears you do not have the same recollection I do - do I understand this correctly?
"In terms of your other questions:
"I advise several clients this year, both Democrats and Republicans. My legislative candidates are Shawn Bunney, JT Wilcox and Hans Zeiger.
"All my legislative candidates are now endorsed by MRW [Mainstream Republicans of Washington], and in the case of Shawn and Hans, endorsed prior to me entering a consulting relationship for this election. I also advised the board of MRW before taking JT's contract as a courtesy and stated I would not take the contract if the board objected.
"Hans was endorsed by MRW in 2009 - over six months before I became his advisor.
"Mainstream's endorsement process involves a vote of the board and a review by a candidate screening committee. We endorse only those who request our endorsement."
The precise relationship between Hays and Zeiger - and how Hays chose to characterize it in my conversation with him - is important for many reasons.
First, it's important because readers are entitled to discount the words of paid consultants. After all, if you're being paid to get some guy elected, you have to say nice things about him, right?
It's also important if you're counting on Mainstream Republicans to tell you whether a certain Republican candidate is a "batshit crazy" extremist - as HorsesAss described Zeiger - or someone you could live with.
If Mainstream Republicans' spokesperson is taking money to get a candidate elected, how can you count on him to give you a fair evaluation of that candidate?
Even if the candidate was endorsed before Hays took them on as a client, there might still be the suspicion of a quid pro quo - something like "get me endorsed and I'll hire you as a consultant."
Finally, it's important because I wouldn't be much of a reporter if I knew that Hays was getting paid by Zeiger and I failed to write it.
"WE HAVE & A DISAGREEMENT ON WHAT WAS MEANT"
After a couple of e-mails back and forth, this is what Hays wrote to me:
"I think we have an agreement on what was said, but a disagreement on what was meant.
"When I told you I was advisor to the campaign I believed I was disclosing exactly what my role was."
But we don't have agreement on what was said.
I think there's a big difference between being a personal friend who gives advice to a candidate and being an "advisor." That's a much more formal relationship.
There's an even bigger difference in being a paid consultant.
I've had several personal friends run for office. I've given every one of them advice on their campaigns - some of it solicited, some of it not.
I've also worked for two campaigns. Both candidates were friends of mine, and I would have helped them even if I wasn't getting paid.
But I was getting paid, and both the candidates and I were clear why I was getting paid - I was supposed to make them look good to voters.
When I worked for those campaigns, sometimes I talked to the media. When I did, I always talked to them as a spokesperson for the campaign. After all, that's what I was getting paid to do.
I never talked to the media claiming to represent my union, my political party, or any other organization I belonged to. I never even claimed to represent myself, not even as a "personal friend," although I was - because that would have been misleading.
I'm not attributing bad motives to Alex Hays. I'm just saying that a personal friend who gives advice to the candidate is different from a paid political consultant.
For the record, while Hays says his clients include Democrats, all the names he gave me - Bunney, Wilcox, and Zeiger - are Republicans.
Bunney made one payment of $750 to AB Hays LLC on July 28. He is running for the state House in the 31st District.
Wilcox - running for the state House in the 2nd District - paid AB Hays LLC a total of $17,492.37.
Also for the record, Hays worked as a campaign consultant for anti-Gay Washington Supreme Court Justice Jim Johnson.
When I saw that, I realized why Hays only gave me the names of his "legislative candidates."
According to the PDC, Johnson paid AB Hays LLC $5,442.96. He also paid Hays himself $5,329.
Heather Straub, Vice President of AB Hays LLC, worked as Johnson's campaign director from February through June of this year. Johnson paid her $4,264.
Some of these payments were reimbursements for stamps and other campaign expenses, but most were fees for political services.
Johnson defeated Tacoma attorney Stan Rumbaugh to win reelection in the August primary.
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