Ethics Complaint Against District 38 Representative Brings Up Conflict of Interest Questions

Oct 16, 2020

Credit Representative Rebecca Dow - (R)

An ethics complaint filed against House District 38 Representative Rebecca Dow alleges she failed to disclose her elected position in state contracts benefitting the educational non-profit she founded, AppleTree.

The complaint was filed by her opponent in the District 38 race, Karen Whitlock. 

Dow, who has served in the state legislature since 2017, does not deny she marked “no” on documents asking about her status as a legislator.  But she says she was advised to do so by Legislative Council Services.

Director of Legislative Council Services, Raúl Burciaga, confirmed Dow did indeed seek clarification, but emphasized the council does not provide official legal advice to representatives, only guidance.

"It was probably a kind of conversation where she said, ‘Well, this is what I'm looking at,’ I'm sure it wasn't in person,” Burciaga said. “And as we went through it, it was like yeah, if you don't have 20% or more of ownership, and it's a not for profit business, then that doesn't seem to apply."

Burciaga says it was appropriate for Dow to seek advice, and it shows she tried to do the right thing. He added Dow could have also checked with the Secretary of State as well as the state agencies issuing grants to the nonprofit where she worked, AppleTree.  But he says the agencies also have a responsibility.

"One other thing I would state, though, is the section of law in question…it says that the agency shall not contract with a state legislator, if X, Y or Z,” Burciaga said. “And the next provision says that a legislator cannot testify before a particular committee, so one of the things we told her is the burden is on the agency to decide whether or not they can enter into the contract." 

Dow was the CEO of AppleTree prior to her resignation in January of 2019 and has stayed involved with the organization as a volunteer since. She disclosed to KRWG how she handled the contracts with Legislative Council Services.

“We went over the instructions together. And the instructions said, what is the definition of ownership or direct connection, and so it was ownership or 20% interest,” Dow said. “I have no interest. I'm not an owner. It's not owned by anyone. It's governed by a nonprofit. And so the answer would be no, I am not signing this as a state employee. I'm not signing this as a legislator, because I have no interest. So yeah, it looks weird, because there's the signature next to a no.”

While Dow was serving as CEO, the state may have narrowly defined conflict of interest, not considering her employment.  Dow, who has since filed a motion to dismiss Whitlock’s complaint, stressed her resignation from AppleTree had nothing to do with a conflict of interest.

“I resigned, because so many people have misrepresented my role,” Dow said. “I ran for office to do good for my community, not to harm my community. And I can't jeopardize the only high-quality early childhood program in the entire county being closed, because people continue to attack us and misrepresent the facts. So I had no conflict of interest, and I had no obligation to resign, I chose to do so.”

The timing of the complaint falls within the 60-day blackout period before the election. Whitlock says she filed the complaint without that knowledge, but it would not have influenced her decision regardless.

“I didn't know of the filing date. I didn't know the filing blackout period,” Whitlock said.  “But I would have filed it anyway, whether it was during the blackout period or not, because I felt this is something important enough that the voters needed to know.”

Whitlock says she only filed the complaint after reviewing the documents herself. She says she’s calling for transparency among public officials.

“Bottom line, this is about integrity and honesty in government, and honesty and transparency in the state legislature,” Whitlock said.

Dow, who says she finds the timing of the complaint suspect, echoes Whitlock’s sentiments of transparency.

“From day one, I have disclosed who I am, what I do and why I'm running,” Dow said. “Unfortunately, Karen's chosen to attack and I'm choosing to defend.”

Now, it’ll be up to voters of District 38 to decide on the merits of the complaint when they go to the polls.