One desired benefit has emerged in the seven months since Troy Kelley stepped aside — but did not resign — from his elected position as Washington state auditor. This important office, tasked with being the state’s fiscal watchdog along with rooting out government fraud and waste, has maintained a state of stability under interim Auditor Jan Jutte. Alas, Kelley has made a move that threatens to upend the smooth operation of the office, and the Legislature itself must move to stop him. Troy Kelley must be impeached.
Kelley went back to work last week, just one day after a bipartisan group of legislators announced an impeachment resolution against him amid a 17-count federal indictment alleging tax evasion and money laundering related to a business he formerly owned. Kelley justifies his return — and his assertion that he should start drawing a state paycheck again — by claiming that he took his unpaid leave of absence so that he could clear his name. The impeachment move, according to a Kelley logic that escapes us, violates the spirit of what he called a compromise.
Problem is, a compromise involves more than one party, and it’s hard to find anyone else who signed onto it, even among Kelley’s fellow Democrats. A number of elected officials, ranging from legislators to Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, called on Kelley to resign last spring, as did the Democratic and Republican parties. The impeachment resolution similarly finds bipartisan favor.
Kelley seems to treat the federal indictment as a business dispute, of which he has a history that dogged his 2012 auditor campaign. Last spring’s federal indictment filled 41 pages and included 10 felony counts of filing false tax returns, attempting to obstruct a lawsuit and possessing more than $1 million in stolen property related to a former business. The most serious charge, attempted obstruction of a civil lawsuit, carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
No one can recall the last time a statewide officeholder was indicted. This is considered Olympia’s most substantive scandal since “Gamscam” in 1980, when two Democratic legislative leaders went to prison after gambling and political corruption convictions.
Yes, Kelley has a presumption of innocence until proved otherwise, but this case is not just about him. It’s about the overseer of a key state fiscal office being accused of felonious fiscal improprieties. The state’s citizens have every expectation that the dealings of the office are aboveboard, an expectation that Kelley cannot meet while under indictment.
His move also forces the Legislature’s hand this next session, virtually guaranteeing a distracting impeachment move during a short session with an already-full calendar that includes issues like education funding, saving charter schools and a carbon tax initiative.
If Kelley ends up clearing his name, he is free to come back and try to reclaim his office. But in the meantime, the state cannot afford to have the good name of the state Auditor’s Office associated with Kelley’s. His move serves only to feed public cynicism and mistrust about government and does no good to himself, state government or the state’s citizens.
Kelley shows no signs of bringing himself to do the right thing, so lawmakers must do it for him. The Legislature must proceed with Troy Kelley’s impeachment.