State says Olsen political flier violates state law

A political flier distributed last week by James Olsen
A political flier distributed last week by James Olsen's campaign for the 23rd District has been found to violate state law because of the use of the state of Washington seal.
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A candidate for the state House of Representatives is being warned that his latest campaign flier violates state law.

James M. Olsen, a candidate for Position 2 in the 23rd District, distributed a campaign flier last week that runs afoul of a state law that prevents the seal of the state of Washington from being used in political campaigns.

The full-color flier — with the headline "The James M. Olsen Plan For A New Washington/Kitsap Prosperity" — was inserted last week into editions of the Kitsap Sun, the Bremerton-based daily newspaper.

The state seal was reproduced on the bottom of the paid political announcement, along with the seal of the Coast Guard.

State law clearly prohibits the use of the state seal in political campaigns. The law states: "The state seal shall never be used in a political campaign to assist or defeat any candidate for elective office."

Brian Zylstra, deputy communications director for Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, said Monday that Olsen was breaking the law and that his office would contact Olsen about the flier.

Zylstra also said the office hasn't had any other complaints this year about candidates using the state seal illegally.

Olsen, a Republican who is taking his second shot at the Position 2, District 23 seat, said he did not know about the law that restricts use of the state seal.

When asked if his use of the state seal in his campaign advertising was an oversight or a mistake, Olsen said: "It was both."

"And probably other things, too," Olsen added.

"It wasn't to run around [state law]," he said.

Olsen said he did not have time to talk to a reporter about the issue when he was contacted Monday. He also declined to talk to the Review on Tuesday.

It's not clear if Olsen's use of the Coast Guard emblem on his latest political piece was also proper.

Olsen, a retired Coast Guard reservist, has made much of his 30-year career in the Coast Guard during his campaign. Photographs distributed by his campaign typically show him holding a large seal of the Coast Guard, and his campaign flier sent out last week in the Kitsap Sun was anchored at the bottom by the Coast Guard seal on one page.

According to the Coast Guard's website, use of the Coast Guard's seal is highly restricted.

"The seal must not be reproduced outside of the Coast Guard," the Coast Guard notes on its website. "The seal is not to be reproduced outside the Coast Guard except for 'wall plaques' for service-related organizations, veteran’s memorials or instances where all other service seals will be displayed."

The Coast Guard also requires prior approval from the commandant of the Coast Guard in Washington, D.C. before the seal can be used for commercial purposes.

Olsen did not respond to an email Monday that asked if he had obtained permission from the Coast Guard to use its seal.

The Coast Guard office in Washington, D.C. that grants permission to use Coast Guard insignia also did not immediately respond to press requests from the Review earlier this week.

Olsen is challenging incumbent Democrat Rep. Drew Hansen for the Position 2 seat in the state House for the 23rd Legislative District.

It's not the first time in this year's campaign that Olsen has been faulted for not following the rules.

Olsen was warned by the city of Bainbridge Island in August that some of his campaign signs violated city regulations after they were festooned with bright orange flags, which the city said were distracting to drivers. Olsen later promised to remove the flags.

The problematic political advertisement that included the state seal and Coast Guard seal is part of Olsen's biggest campaign expenditure this election year, according to the Public Disclosure Commission, the state's campaign watchdog.

According to documents on file with the Public Disclosure Commission, Olsen paid $2,437 to the Kitsap Sun on Sept. 13, for campaign literature.

Olsen has raised $13,604 in cash and in-kind contributions for this year's campaign, according to a report filed with the Public Disclosure Commission on Oct. 16.

Olsen spent $13,368 through Oct. 16 on his campaign and has a cash-on-hand balance of $235.

Olsen's campaign shows a deficit of $1,734, largely due to a $2,000 loan that Olsen made to his campaign on Oct. 12 that must be repaid or forgiven.

Hansen has raised $209,914 in cash and in-kind contributions through Oct. 16, according to a report filed this week with the Public Disclosure Commission. He has spent $158,847 during the campaign and has a cash-on-hand balance of $51,067.

Hansen's largest outside expenditure was a $15,641 payment to Northwest Passage Consulting, a Seattle-based communications and political consulting firm, on Sept. 11.


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