Prominent Sequim businessman fined $60,000 for concealing donations in last year's election campaign

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– The state Public Disclosure Commission has fined Olympic Ambulance owner Bill Littlejohn $60,000 for concealing campaign donations to the successful effort to sink a Clallam County Fire District No. 2 levy lid lift request last fall.

In an agreement signed Monday, Littlejohn admitted to making $7,500 in cash contributions using employees' names to the Citizens Against Fire District 2 Levy political committee in September.

Half of Littlejohn's fine was suspended. He also must pay $4,000 for the commission's investigative costs. The money is due in 60 days.

Littlejohn said he didn't realize he was violating campaign law when he asked six employees to use their names, and used a seventh's without asking, to make cash donations of upwards of $1,000 each.

He made no donations in his own name.

The total donations coming from Littlejohn comprised 59.3 percent of the vote-no campaign's war chest.

“I didn't realize it was that big a deal at the time,” Littlejohn said.

“You live and learn, right?”

Public Disclosure Commission spokeswoman Lori Anderson said state campaign finance laws are designed specifically to make contributions transparent.

Cash contributions of more than $100 are forbidden. Contributions over that amount must be made by check or credit card in a way that identifies both the donor and recipient.

“Concealing contributions is the most serious of all offenses in the field of campaign finance,” Anderson said.

After a contentious campaign, voters rejected the levy lid lift with 58 percent of the vote in November.

“We had a number of signs stolen, and other things happened throughout the levy campaign,” said Mike DeRousie, who led the Committee to Support Clallam County Fire District 2.

The levy lid lift would have increased the district's property tax levy by 39 cents per each $1,000 of assessed valuation to fund three full-time firefighter/paramedics positions.

Littlejohn had worried that the tax hike to fund public medics would hurt his business, which covers emergency calls in the district.

“That is the only area in Clallam County where we are allowed to use paramedics,” Littlejohn told the Peninsula Daily News in September.

On Friday, Littlejohn said he didn't think his contributions swayed the election.

“It was pretty overwhelmingly defeated, so I don't think it had any impact,” he said.

Advocates of the measure disagreed.

“I do think it had an effect on the outcome of the election,” District No. 2 Chief Sam Phillips said.

The anti-levy campaign raised $12,650 total. That was an advantage over the $5,650 raised by the pro campaign.

According to the commission's investigation, Littlejohn would draw cash from his business and leave the contributions in envelopes marked with his employees' information at the front desk of Olympic Ambulance Service, where it would be picked up by personnel with the Citizens Against campaign.

Eric Foth, chair of the anti-levy campaign, said he didn't realize the cash contributions were illegal.

“No, I didn't realize there was anything wrong with it,” he said.

DeRousie filed the complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission that led to Littlejohn's fine, telling the agency he was concerned by “a pattern of bookkeepers” employed by Littlejohn donating $1,000 to $1,250 in cash each to the anti-levy campaign.

Littlejohn, 67, owns the ambulance company along with Olympic Oxygen, Sherwood Assisted Living and The Fifth Avenue and Lodge retirement homes, which were at the forefront of the city's boom as a retirement destination.

A native of Sequim whose father, Robert, was a prominent physician, Littlejohn has long been an active philanthropist.

In 2008, the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce created the Bill and Esther Littlejohn Humanitarian Award — with the Littlejohns as the first recipients — in honor of the millions the couple donated to various community organizations, including the Littlejohn Radiation and Oncology Wing at the Olympic Medical Cancer Center.

The William and Esther Littlejohn Foundation has donated tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships to Sequim High School graduates.

Employees whom Littlejohn approached about contributions to the campaign told Public Disclosure Commission investigators they viewed his request as being similar to charitable contributions made in their names.

Littlejohn said he disguised his contributions to avoid repercussions like those that followed his backing of a campaign to defeat an annexation request in Mason County in 2010.

The annexation passed, and Littlejohn said it cost his ambulance company business.

With the failure of the vote, Olympic ambulances remain the primary emergency medical service used in Fire District No. 2.

Littlejohn and fire officials said the campaign has not hurt that relationship.

“Right now, I have a really good working relationship with Bill,” Phillips said.

“We've worked out our differences and have a tentative agreement in place, and I'm real happy about that.”

________

Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 12. 2014 11:36PM
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