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Olsen continues to distribute illegal campaign fliers despite warning; state official says Attorney General's Office will be contacted

Republican James M. Olsen continues to use the Washington state seal and the Coast Guard Reserve seal on political advertisements for his campaign, despite a warning from the state that the use of the seals violates state and federal laws. Olsen distributed two versions of the flier again in the past week; a close-up of one version, shown above, depicts the seals with wording blackened out. Other versions of the fliers distributed this week use unaltered illustrations of the two seals.  -
Republican James M. Olsen continues to use the Washington state seal and the Coast Guard Reserve seal on political advertisements for his campaign, despite a warning from the state that the use of the seals violates state and federal laws. Olsen distributed two versions of the flier again in the past week; a close-up of one version, shown above, depicts the seals with wording blackened out. Other versions of the fliers distributed this week use unaltered illustrations of the two seals.
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James M. Olsen is continuing to distribute fliers for his 23rd District campaign that state officials have said violate state and federal laws, despite a warning to stop last week from the Washington Secretary of State's office.

An official with the Secretary of State's office said Tuesday that the state Attorney General's Office would be contacted over the matter.

Olsen's problems with the state began earlier this month, after he had the Kitsap Sun put a two-page, full-color insert that carried the headline "The James M. Olsen Plan For A New Washington/Kitsap Prosperity" into recent editions of the Bremerton-based newspaper. The political advertisement is illustrated with the Washington state seal and the Coast Guard Reserve seal on the bottom of one page.

State officials have told Olsen that the use of the state seal in campaigns is against the law, and have also told Olsen that his use of the Coast Guard Reserve seal violates federal law.

Last week, Assistant to the Secretary of State Patrick McDonald wrote to Olsen and told him to immediately stop using the state seal.

Olsen has since refused to stop distributing the problematic political piece.

Recent editions of the Kitsap Sun have included the illegal flier. Some editions of the newspaper have included the original flier, while other editions have included an altered version of the flier where words on both the state seal and the Coast Guard seal appear to have been blackened out with a Sharpie marker.

Olsen, a Republican candidate for District 23, Position 2 in the state House of Representatives, did not respond to a phone call and email earlier this week from the Review seeking comment.

In an email to the Review Tuesday, McDonald said that any use of the state seal, in whole or in part, "implies connection to the state of Washington."

McDonald also said he was contacting the state Attorney General's Office about the matter.

Kol Medina, chairman of the 23rd Legislative District Democrats, said Tuesday he was lodging a complaint over the Olsen campaign flier that appeared in the Sunday edition of the Kitsap Sun.

Medina has contacted the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, the state agency that serves as a watchdog on elections, as well as the Coast Guard office in Washington, D.C. that safeguards the use of seals and insignia for the Coast Guard.

In an email to the commission, Medina said he expected the state to take action against Olsen.

"If there is statutory authority for the PDC or another office of Washington state to fine Mr. Olsen, I expect that the state will do so as well as take whatever other actions are available," Medina said in his email to the commission.

Last week, Olsen told the Review that his use of the state seal was an "innocent mistake" and that he did not know there was a law against using the state seal in a political campaign.

Olsen's own history as a candidate for public office shows otherwise, however.

During his 2010 race for a 23rd District seat, Olsen filed an ethics complaint against Christine Rolfes, who was the Position 2, 23rd District lawmaker at the time, and Rep. Sherry Appleton, also a House member from the 23rd District.

In his complaint to the Washington State Legislative Ethics Board, Olsen said that both Rolfes and Appleton, both Democrats, had appeared at a candidates forum hosted by the Kitsap County Parent Coalition for Developmental Disabilities and had worn their state-issued identification badges. The badges are illustrated with the state seal.

"I believe that the use of the official ID badge with state seal cannot be used at a campaign event for candidates," Olsen wrote. "This is a misuse of official property and it represents the wearer is acting in an official capacity."

The Washington State Legislative Ethics Board later decided that the use of legislative badges at a campaign event was a violation of the state law that prohibits public resources being used in campaigns, but dismissed the complaint "as further proceedings would not serve the purposes of the Ethics Act." Lawmakers were told to not wear their official badges while campaigning.

The board also noted in its decision that the use of the state seal was against the law, and forwarded its findings to the Secretary of State's office.

Olsen was asked last week by the Review about the apparent inconsistency between his recent statements about his lack of knowledge of the law restricting the use of the state seal, and his earlier complaint in 2010 that mentioned the use of the state seal by others while campaigning. Olsen would not speak directly with a reporter about the issue, but said in an email that the matter wasn't so clear cut.

"Not surprisingly this matter is more complicated and nuanced than your article suggests dealing with issues of intent, Free Speech and the doctrine of Fair Use," Olsen said in an Oct. 17 email to the Review.

The Coast Guard has said that while Olsen can say he is a retired Coast Guard officer and can mention his service in the Coast Guard, using the words "United States Coast Guard" in an advertisement without permission is a crime.

Nadine Santiago, trademark and licensing program manager for the Coast Guard, said they would not have given Olsen permission.

"We would have denied permission based on the appearance of endorsement," Santiago said in an email to the Review.

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