Rep. threatened WSU funding, complaint states

Complaint against Washington legislator argues he violated state ethics laws

CODY COTTIER, Evergreen reporter

A public employee advocacy group has filed an ethics complaint against a Washington state legislator, claiming he threatened to withhold funds for WSU building projects if the university did not fire a wolf researcher and end funding to his program.

The complaint, lodged with the Washington State Legislative Ethics Board, argues that Rep. Joel Kretz of the 7th Legislative District used his position in attempts to suppress large carnivore research at WSU, and to have professor Robert Wielgus harassed and fired.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility listed a number of ethics violation allegations over the past decade, many of which involve threats to withhold university funding, including for the new Elson. S. Floyd College of Medicine and the Plant Sciences Building.

“[Kretz] has engaged in a prolonged pattern and practice of unethical behavior … as a means of suppressing peer-reviewed research that undercuts his personal interests,” the complaint states.

Kretz could not be reached for comment.


Wielgus’ research, some of which suggests that killing wolves actually increases conflicts with livestock, has put him at odds with Kretz over the years. Adam Carlesco, who filed the complaint for PEER, said Kretz has acted out of self-interest as a rancher and predator hunter.

State ethics laws prohibit legislators from using their position for their own personal benefit, though they are allowed to advocate on behalf of constituents.

However, Carlesco said Kretz seems to be using his influence to suppress research that hinders his ability to hunt predators that prey on livestock.

“This is a senior-ranking member of the House of Representatives, a person in a high position of power,” Carlesco said.

The main focus of the complaint’s argument is that Kretz used “improper means” in his communication with WSU, Carlesco said, meaning communication that could be perceived as threatening.

Therefore, he said, even if Kretz were advocating on behalf of a constituent, he would still be in violation of ethics laws by threatening to withhold university funding.

The most recent violation came in May, Carlesco said, when WSU administrators met with Kretz in Olympia. He said the meeting was held behind closed doors to avoid public records laws.

“It looks like they’re purposely trying to circumvent records-keeping on things of this sort,” Carlesco said.

However, the complaint cites internal WSU emails that suggest the meeting included discussions about how to curtail Wielgus’ research and reach out to the ranching community.

The complaint also states that a WSU employee overheard a conversation in May between Ron Mittelhammer, dean of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, and someone the employee believed to be Kretz, which involved threats to funding for the Plant Sciences Building.

Kretz has repeatedly pressured WSU administrators to fire Wielgus and shut down his lab since 2008, according to the complaint. Wielgus eventually lost two years of summer funding for his program as a result of Kretz’s efforts, the complaint states, and he was replaced as lead researcher on his grant.

Wielgus criticized the lethal removal of the Profanity Peak wolf pack in August 2016, after which WSU disavowed his statements under pressure from Kretz, according to the complaint. The university then investigated Wielgus for scientific misconduct at Kretz’s urging, the complaint states, but later cleared him of wrongdoing.

Wielgus said earlier this year that he planned to sue WSU, but he is now in negotiations with the university.

Carlesco said the state ethics board has opened preliminary investigations into the complaint, and the case will go before the full committee on Oct. 18.