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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Ethics Complaints Dismissed Against Former Top Washington Commerce Staffers

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
File photo. David Kaplan, center, founder and CEO of Seattle-based 1Energy Systems, said ethics complaints against former top Washington Department of Commerce staffers were ''about anti-clean energy politics.''

Washington’s state ethics board has dismissed complaints against several current and former officials at the state Department of Commerce. Three of those former staffers now work for clean energy start-up companies that are benefiting from a state grant program.

We first reported on this revolving door last month in collaboration with The Seattle Times.

The anonymous complaints centered on the state’s Clean Energy Fund. It’s a program championed by Governor Jay Inslee that granted money to utilities to experiment with energy storage. In turn, those utilities subcontracted out much of the work to private vendors.

The former director and deputy director of the Washington Department of Commerce now work for one of those vendors -- Seattle-based 1Energy. A former attorney at the Department of Commerce who helped negotiate the contracts later went to work for another subcontractor--battery-maker UniEnergy.

The Ethics Board dismissed the complaints against all three as “obviously unfounded or frivolous.”

In a statement, David Kaplan, the founder and CEO of 1Energy said the dismissals “confirms for us that all of this has been more about anti-clean energy politics than any legitimate concern about wrongdoing.”

The Ethics Board dismissed a total of seven complaints against current and former Commerce staffers. An eighth complaint against Kaplan was previously dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because he was a consultant to Commerce, not a state employee

In a statement, UniEnergy’s general counsel thanked the Ethics Board for its consideration.

The Department of Commerce has since taken steps to increase ethics training and added new conflict of interest rules for contractors.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."