Wagoner bill would keep elected officials from playing politics with consumer-settlement funds

OLYMPIA… Chicken Checks. Poultry Payments. Tuna Tributes. Whatever you call them, Sen. Keith Wagoner says there’s something fishy about the method Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is using to send out nearly $40 million in payments to consumers after settling a lawsuit against chicken and tuna companies accused of colluding to illegally fix prices.

To address some of the concerns raised by the payments, Wagoner has introduced a bill that would prohibit elected officials from including their name on any future restitution checks or on the letters that go out with them.

Wagoner says the checks, which were attached to letters from Ferguson and mailed to 420,000 individuals, create the appearance of impropriety, and raise the specter that the attorney general is using his public office to aid his candidacy for governor.

“It may not be a violation of the law per se,” said Wagoner, R- Sedro-Woolley, “but it raises ethical questions that have left many recipients of the checks confused, and a great deal of voters rightfully alarmed.

“Washingtonians receiving these checks have no idea why they are getting them, or if they are even legitimate or not. There have been reports of dead people receiving checks; people who no longer, or never did, live in Washington receiving checks; and people who don’t meet Ferguson’s stated income levels receiving checks. Some see it as a blatant attempt to buy votes in a future election. This rollout was a complete logistical and ethical mess.”

Senate Bill 6176 would require that any agency issuing payments to injured parties, claimants, or other members of the public as a result of funds awarded by a court to the state, or allocated in a settlement, use the name of the state agency or administrator of the payments on any checks, envelopes or accompanying letters.

“Personally, I think the money won from the lawsuit should have gone to food banks,” Wagoner added. “Post-pandemic, they have been struggling to get contributions, and canned chicken and tuna are among their most distributed items. This would have been a simple and much-needed solution, and would have avoided all the chaos and confusion we’ve seen.

“The AG had an opportunity to put people before politics, and he missed it. Hopefully, my colleagues will support this legislation and make sure future elected officials can’t self-promote with public funds.”

SB 6176 was referred to the Senate State Government and Elections Committee for its consideration.