State Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, agreed Saturday to pay back more than $4,500 to the state for improperly charging taxpayers for mileage to pick up mail at a post office box where she received both official and campaign mail. Roach agreed to the reimbursement — $4,515.91 — after the improper charges were publicized by her political opponents in her bitter reelection contest in the 31st Legislative District.
Roach had charged taxpayers for hundreds of trips since 2009 to pick up mail at the Auburn PO Box that is 22 miles from her rural home. In an email to Senate administrators last week, Roach said she’d rented the box 25 years ago because she’d had her mail stolen several times from her home mailbox, which is unsecured and not visible from her house. But state Senate Secretary Hunter Goodman replied that — whatever Roach’s logistical issues are — the Senate’s “zero tolerance” rules against mingling campaign and official business are clear and have been in place for years.
“I can certainly appreciate your frustration. However, once you used your office funds to pay for the post office box, that box became entirely off limits for campaign use,” Goodman wrote.
In an email to Senate administrators and reporters Saturday, Roach said the matter has now been resolved. “All reimbursements have been made,” she wrote. Roach’s mileage refund is in addition to more than $900 in other expenses she agreed to refund earlier this week. That was for Senate-purchased cell phones she used partly for campaigning, an accidental double charge for mileage for a trip to Oregon, and rental fees for the Auburn PO Box. (The amount originally reported as $680 but Senate officials said they’d mistakenly left out part of the bill.) In an email, Senate attorney Keith Buchholz praised Roach for being “direct and responsive” in resolving the issues. Buchholz added that Roach was saving taxpayers $5,000-a-year by not maintaining a district office in Auburn.
“Had she maintained the office in Auburn, the question of mileage reimbursement would likely not be an issue today,” he said.
In an email to Buchholz, which was copied to reporters, Roach complained that the Senate had not caught the discrepancies and alerted her to the problems earlier.
“We cannot catch everything,” Roach wrote. “And, it is not good policy to rely on political campaigns to find things, as you suggest. I think we should be proactive. There should be a list of the esoteric findings of decades ago, sent to members on a year-by-year basis.”
Roach’s expenses are just one of the charges and counter-charges being flung around in the bitter election battle in the 31st Legislative District, which straddles parts of south King and north Pierce counties. Roach is being challenged by a fellow Republican, Rep. Cathy Dahlquist of Enumclaw. And Dahlquist is working hand-in-hand with Rep. Chris Hurst, an Enumclaw Democrat, who has worked to publicize allegations against Roach. In response, Roach has accused Dahlquist and Hurst of bullying her and other political opponents.