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AGLO 1976 No. 40 - June 23, 1976
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES ‑- EMPLOYEES ‑- CIVIL SERVICE ‑- ELECTIONS ‑- POLITICAL ACTIVITIES BY CERTAIN COUNTY EMPLOYEES

The extent to which RCW 41.06.250(2) supersedes § 560 of the King county charter restricting political activities by county employees.

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                                                                   June 23, 1976

Honorable Christopher T. Bayley
Prosecuting Attorney
King County Court House
Seattle, Washington 98104                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1976 No. 40

Attention:  Mr. Norman K. Maleng
            Chief Civil Deputy

Dear Sir:

            By recent letter you requested our opinion on the following questions:

            "(1) Does RCW 41.06.250(2) supersede the provisions of Section 560 of the King County Charter which provides that certain county employees ' . . . shall not engage in any political activity on behalf of . . . anyone occupying or seeking appointment, nomination or election to any elective county office.'"

            "(2) Does RCW 41.06.250(2) supersede the provisions of Section 560 of the King County Charter which provides that certain county employees '. . . shall not pay or be asked to pay any assessment or contribution which will benefit directly or indirectly, anyone occupying or seeking appointment, nomination or election to any elective county office.'  More specifically, does the language of RCW 41.06.250(2) which purports to authorize employees of the state or any political subdivision to participate in certain political activities extend to voluntary campaign contributions and therefore conflict with Section 560 of the Charter which prohibits any campaign contributions to '. . . anyone occupying or seeking appointment, nomination or election to any elective county office.'"

            We answer your first question in the affirmative and your second question as set forth in our analysis.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            As originally enacted through the passage of Initiative No. 207, in 1960, RCW 41.06.250 dealt only withstate employees who are covered by the civil service system which was established by that initiative measure.  See, § 25, chapter 1, Laws of 1961.  In 1974, however, subsection (2) of this statute was amended by § 1, chapter 136, Laws of 1974, 1st Ex. Sess., to pick up the employees of political subdivisions as well.  At the same time, a previous prohibition against certain political activities was removed.  Set forth in bill form for ease of understanding, this amendatory enactment read as follows:

            "(2) Employeesof the state or any political subdivision thereof shall have the right to vote and to express their opinions on all political subjects and candidates ((, but shall not)) and to hold any political party office or participate in the management of a partisan, political campaign.  Nothing in this section shall prohibit ((a classified)) an employee of the state or any political subdivision thereof from participating fully in campaigns relating to constitutional amendments, referendums, initiatives, and issues of a similar character, and for nonpartisan offices."

            In addition, the legislature by this same 1974 act added a further subsection to the statute by which it said that:

            "(5) The provisions of this section shall supersede all statutes, charter provisions, ordinances, resolutions, regulations, and requirements promulgated by the state or any subdivision thereof, including any provision of any county charter, insofar as they may be in conflict with the provisions of this section."

            Thus, to the extent that a local ordinance, charter provision, resolution or regulation now purports to prohibit the employees of the municipality by which it was adopted from engaging in any of the activities described in thefirst sentence of RCW 41.06.250(2), the local law is no longer enforceable.  Accord, AGO 1975 No. 22 [[to Reuben A. Knoblauch, State Senator on October 28, 1975]]and AGLO 1974 No. 97 [[to William M. Polk, State Representative on November 19, 1974 an Informal Opinion, AIR-74597]], copies enclosed.  On the other hand, thesecond sentence of the statute differs from the first in that it does not purport to grant any "rights" to the employees involved.  Rather,  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] as also explained in AGO 1975 No. 22,supra, this further sentence merely disclaims any intent on the part of the legislatureitself to have prohibited a state or municipal employee,

            ". . . from participating fully in campaigns relating to constitutional amendments, referendums, initiatives, and issues of a similar character, and for nonpartisan offices."

            Question (1):

            Bearing in mind this general description of the scope and effect of RCW 41.06.250, as amended, let us turn now to § 560 of the King county charter.  This section, with emphasis on the portion which is germane to your first question, reads as follows:

            "The county administrative officer, the chief officer of each administrative office and executive department except the department of assessments, the officers and employees of each administrative office and executive department except the department of assessments who are not members of the career service and all members of the career service shall not engage in any political activity on behalf of, and shall not pay or be asked to pay any assessment or contribution which will benefit directly or indirectly, anyone occupying or seeking appointment, nomination or election to any elective county office."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            In requesting our opinion regarding the current enforceability of the underscored portion of this charter provision in the light of RCW 41.06.250,supra, as amended, you have informed us, for the record, that all of the county elected offices to which the charter provision applies are partisan offices; i.e., offices to which candidates are elected on the basis of recognized political party nominations.  Thus, the precise issue here to be explored may be initially narrowed so as to involve the opening sentence, only, of RCW 41.06.250(2) which, here repeated for ease of reference, provides that:

            "(2) Employeesof the state or any political subdivision thereof shall have the right to vote and to express their opinions on all political subjects and candidates ((, but shall not)) and to hold any political party office or participate in the management of a partisan, political campaign. . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]   In our opinion there is a clear conflict between the affirmative language of this state statute and the negative prohibition of so much of § 560, supra, as provides that designated county employees ". . . shall not engage in any political activity on behalf of, . . . anyone occupying or seeking appointment, nomination or election to any elective county office."  Therefore, it necessarily follows, in accordance with RCW 41.06.250(5), supra, that this portion of the county charter has been expressly superseded, and thereby rendered unenforceable, by the state law.

            Question (2):

            Moreover, we would likewise come to the same conclusion with respect to so much of § 560 of the King county charter as says that those county employees to which it refers

            ". . . shall not pay . . . any assessment or contribution which will benefit directly or indirectly, anyone occupying or seeking appointment, nomination or election to any elective county office."

            The act of contributing money or some other thing of value in support of a candidate for a partisan elective office, in our judgment, falls within the ambit of the term "management of a partisan, political campaign" in RCW 41.06.250(2),supra, as that phrase was previously construed by this office in AGO 1975 No. 22,supra.  See, in particular, pages 6 and 7 of that earlier opinion where we said:

            ". . . it appears to us, in the context in which this term here appears and in the light of the legislative history of RCW 41.06.250 as above outlined, that the full phrase 'management of a partisan, political campaign' encompasses all political activities in support of a given candidate for partisan office ‑ over and above merely voting or expressing one's own personal opinion.  Otherwise, there would be an illogical gap in the statute between the latter and 'management' in the more limited sense of that word.  Thus, as we view it, such a narrow construction of the word should be rejected in conformity with the well-established principle of statutory construction  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] that, in the words of In re Horse Heaven Irrigation Dist., 11 Wn.2d 218, 226, 118 P.2d 972 (1941):

            "'The courts, in pursuant of the general object of giving effect to the intention of the legislature, are not controlled by the literal meaning of the language of the statute, but the spirit or intention of the law prevails over the letter thereof. . . .'

            "In this instance, the apparent 'spirit of intention' of the 1974 legislature's amendment to RCW 41.06.250(2) was to grant state and municipal employees the right to vote and express their opinions both publicly and privately on all political matters and, in addition, to engage, actively, in campaigns forpartisan elective offices. . . ."

            Thus, this last above quoted portion of § 560, supra, must also be deemed to have been superseded by RCW 41.06.250(2),supra, as amended,

            On the other hand, however, we reach a different result with regard to so much of § 560 as prohibits the solicitation of assessments or contributions from designated county employees in support of candidates for partisan county elective offices; i.e., that portion of the charter section which says that designated county employees ". . . shall not . . . be asked to pay any assessment or contribution . . ." etc.  This aspect of the county charter does not impose any restraint upon the political activities in which county employees, themselves, may engage.  Rather, it prohibits certain conduct by persons dealing with those county employees ‑ in particular, the solicitation of campaign contributions from those employees.  Therefore, in our opinion, this part of § 560, supra, may continue to be enforced.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

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