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The $65,000 question Why did Blake give campaign checks to controversial crony?

Blake paid Rossetti’s fledgling business $25,000 in campaign contributions — while it was still under construction
Natalie St. John

Published on October 19, 2018 2:09PM

Last changed on October 23, 2018 5:41PM

Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen spent an unprecedented $25,000 in campaign contributions at this new Vancouver print shop belonging to his friend and former colleague, JD Rossetti. This photo, which shows Rossetti inside an unfinished interior, was taken three days after Blake wrote the check.

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Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen spent an unprecedented $25,000 in campaign contributions at this new Vancouver print shop belonging to his friend and former colleague, JD Rossetti. This photo, which shows Rossetti inside an unfinished interior, was taken three days after Blake wrote the check.

Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen

Washington House Democrats

Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen

Former state Rep. J.D. Rossetti and his then-wife, Amber Rosewood, are pictured in 2015.

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Former state Rep. J.D. Rossetti and his then-wife, Amber Rosewood, are pictured in 2015.

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VANCOUVER, Wash. — Pacific County’s former state rep, Justin “JD” Rossetti, left office under a cloud of abuse and misconduct allegations. He’s in a new line of work now, running a recently opened print shop in Vancouver, Washington, with his sister and father.

But his relationship with one of the county’s current state representatives, Brian Blake, is still paying off. Since July, Blake has paid Rossetti’s fledgling business an unprecedented $65,000 in campaign contributions — $25,000 of which he paid while the shop was still under construction.

Rossetti, 36, of Kelso, has long been a player in local Democratic politics. He ran campaigns for Blake, Sen. Dean Takko and former Sen. Brian Hatfield. He served as Blake’s legislative assistant from 2012 until October 2015, when he was appointed to the House of Representatives. Along with Blake and Takko, he served the 19th Legislative District, which includes Pacific and Wahkiakum counties and parts of Cowlitz, Lewis and Grays Harbor counties, through December 2016. Even after his term ended, he continued to run several social media accounts for local Democratic groups.


A puzzling decision


On July 20, Brian Blake’s campaign paid the Rossettis $25,000 to produce an unspecified number of newspaper advertisements, and design, print and mail 20,000 postcards, according to invoices the Rossettis were obligated to share under state law. Blake also made two $20,000 payments to their business on Oct. 3., for newspaper ads, postage and 35,000 postcards.

The decision to hire Rossetti was remarkable in several ways. His alleged domestic violence and questionable decisions while in office have been widely publicized. Both of Rossetti’s ex-wives have accused him of stalking and abusing them, and he is still the subject of an active domestic violence protection order.

Blake, a Democrat who has been in office since 2002, also has a professional relationship with Rossetti’s estranged second wife, Amber Rosewood. She works for Washington State Democrats as a field organizer for the 19th and 20th Legislative Districts. As such, she is required to stump for Blake on a regular basis.

It’s not clear why Rossetti got so much money. The shop appears to have designed one newspaper ad and two mailers. Blake has never written a check for more than about $5,000 in his previous campaigns.

Blake is far-outspending an opponent who doesn’t pose much of a threat. Joel McEntire, a Cathlamet Republican, took 20.5 percent of the vote in the August Primary. In all, he has raised $10,955 and spent $8,253.


Empty shop, full account


It’s also unclear whether the Rossettis’ new business was equipped to handle big orders when they took the first payment. Rossetti’s sister, Jennifer Rossetti, and father, James Rossetti, filed the paperwork to open a new franchise of Minuteman Press, a national chain, in May. By late June, they’d created a Facebook page where they advertised their services and posted pictures of the progress on their shop in the Vancouver suburb of Hazel Dell. On June 30, the Rossettis posted a picture of a stark, unfinished, unfurnished storefront.

“Monday is our first official day!! Here is the empty inside of our new location,” the caption read. The shop actually opened on July 9. Pictures taken around that time showed building supplies and a table saw inside the still-empty store.

Three days later, the family posted another picture that shows JD Rossetti hunched over a desk inside. A ladder and fan sit in the almost empty room. The unpainted drywall is covered in patches, and a pile of lumber is stacked on the bare cement floor. On July 30, the Rossettis announced they finally had a counter.


Big spending


The payments to the Rossettis accounted for 65 percent of the roughly $99,995 Blake is known to have spent, as of Oct. 23. Together, all of his other campaign management, advertising, consulting, mailing and sign costs this year add up to around $18,200.

The $65,000 is far and away the largest amount he’s paid to any single entity for producing campaign materials in the six election cycles between 2008 and 2018. His second-biggest expenditure went to Chinook Consulting in July 2016. Blake made three payments with a combined total of $13,773.45 — a little more than a fifth of what the Rossettis received. Between 2008 and 2016, Blake spent an average of about $12,300 on similar services over the life of each campaign.

The round numbers are also unusual, because taxes and postage costs usually result in odd amounts. For example, the three Chinook Consulting payments were for $5,004.91, $3,762.43 and $5,006.11.

The recent business with Blake is hardly the first time Rossetti has been mixed up in questionable political doings.


Embattled rep


Shortly before he was appointed in 2015, the Chinook Observer published an article about his history of drug use, financial problems and alleged stalking of his first ex-wife, who had previously been granted a protection order against Rossetti.

To keep his seat, Rossetti had to run for election in 2016. He was eliminated in the August Primary Election. That November, around the time current Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen won the seat, Rosewood was granted a domestic violence protection order that banned him from contacting her and her teen son for a year.

“I outlined six separate events in which Justin has exhibited violent behavior, has hit me, has ruined things in my home,” Rosewood said during the protection order hearing. She later pressed criminal domestic violence charges against Rossetti for one of the incidents. The public court filings included numerous emails in which Rossetti admitted to smashing a mirror, punching a wall and taking away her keys and phone, and described himself as “abusive,” “controlling,” “intimidating” and “violent.” They also included a recording of a fight in which he asked Rosewood, “What would you like me to break first?” He was acquitted by a jury of five men and one woman. Rosewood still has an active protection order.


Under a cloud


During this period, Rossetti was a commissioner for Longview Public Schools, where the stepson he was banned from contacting was a student. After the abuse allegations came to light, some of his fellow commissioners and the superintendent asked Rossetti to resign on five occasions. He refused each time. Blake’s campaign treasurer, Barbara Westrick, is a Longview Public Schools commissioner who served with Rossetti. In December 2016, she told the Observer she did not think the school board should ask Rossetti to step down.

“I don’t think it’s our job. It’s up to the public,” Westrick said.

In a May 2017 report, the Chinook Observer used documents, a photograph and statements from a whistleblower to show that Rossetti was living outside the school district — a violation of both district policy and state law. He was allowed to serve out his term.

Since then, Rossetti has served as a lobbyist for the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers and run Juxtapolitico, a consulting business, and JusticeDR, a charismatic Catholic ministry. In a February 2017 blog post on the ministry’s website, Rossetti said around the time he lost the primary, he began to experience the Holy Spirit as “a thick cloud of incense” pouring from his heart.

“As I swam laps in the pool, I could feel the incense filling the pool, then the aquatic center and then the whole recreational facility. This happened everywhere and the pouring fourth [sic] didn’t stop there,” Rossetti wrote.


Heavily involved


State corporate registry, tax and business license documents list only James and Jennifer Rossetti as business owners, but it’s clear JD Rossetti is heavily involved in the Minuteman shop. The documents list a Longview address Rossetti has used on official forms in the past. On Aug. 30 — a month and 10 days after the Rossettis took Blake’s big check — they posted a letter on Minuteman letterhead that announced their “new” family venture.

The letter read, in part, “Justin Rossetti is our representative for sales and marketing. Justin works with business and community leaders to ensure product marketing efforts are effective and efficient.”

This is not the first time Blake has paid Rossetti for campaign-related work, but it is far more than he has paid him in the past. In 2012, Blake paid Justin Rossetti Consulting Services about $5,230 for consulting, website design and advertising services. In 2016, Blake paid Rossetti, who was then working under the name J.D. Rose, $2,650 for design, marketing and web-hosting.


Sort of pro-labor


“[JD Rossetti] is handling all of my newspaper advertisements in weeklies and dailies. And also my mailers,” Blake said on Oct. 17. However, his PDC campaign finance reports show that he also paid the Seattle firm Northwest Passage Consulting $2,947.66 on Aug. 18 for campaign mailers. He paid Northwest an additional $3,344 for campaign print ads, digital ads and phone calls. The company also provided similar services to his campaign in 2012, 2014 and 2016. In all, he has paid Northwest a total of about $24,900 for consulting, ad design and mailing over the course of four campaigns.

Blake said he has always used printing businesses outside of his district. He chose the Rossetti’s franchise rather than the Minuteman Press in Kelso or one of the other print shops in his own district partly because of his loyalty to labor groups — the Rossettis’ shop is union.

“I always use union shops,” Blake said.

He has paid thousands to a handful of union-run print shops over the years, including Capitol City Press in Olympia and Morel Ink in Portland, but his statement is not entirely true. This year, he spent $295 at Grays Harbor Stamp Works, a union-run company that makes promotional materials like buttons and T-shirts for pro-union causes. However, 10 days after Blake paid Rossetti $25,000 for services that included mailing costs, he paid a non-union Seattle company, Publisher’s Mailing Service $2,458.12 for mailing costs.

Consulting firms generally are not union either, but Blake is still using Northwest Passage, even though the Rossettis purportedly offer many of the same services. And there is at least one union print shop in the 19th Legislative District — Dunsire Printers in Aberdeen.


‘In a timely fashion’


Rossetti “is somebody I’ve worked with and could trust to get the work done,” Blake said. Asked why he didn’t hire Dunsire, or at least a business owned by someone who has never been accused of abusing women and children, Blake answered, “Because I chose JD’s shop.” He claimed to know little about the allegations against Rossetti, repeatedly saying that he didn’t think it was relevant because “he wasn’t convicted” of the one incident for which he was charged. The Observer showed Blake excerpts of the emails in which Rossetti detailed his transgressions for a December 2016 article, in which Blake expressed regrets about the way he handled the allegations against his friend and colleague.

“One of the things I’ve had to do was step back and say, ‘Why didn’t Amber feel comfortable that she could come to me, as my friend and ask for help?’” Blake said at the time.

Blake refused to give direct answers to several other questions. Asked whether he had any ethical qualms about hiring Rossetti, Blake responded, “I had the trust that he could get the work done in a timely fashion.”

In response to a question about whether his decision to hire an alleged abuser with a suspected history of lying to his constituents reflected the values of the Democratic Party, he replied, “I had confidence he would get the work done in a timely fashion.” When asked whether he had any concerns that Rossetti’s shop would be able to do the first job, given that it was still under construction, he responded, “I had confidence he would get the work done in a timely fashion.”


Missing records


Blake said JD Rossetti is “handling again the weeklies and dailies and a mailer for the general elections,” which went out after ballots were mailed on Oct. 19.

As of Oct. 23, Blake’s treasurer had not reported the $40,000 payment from early October, although the reports should have been turned in to the Public Disclosure Commission by Oct. 16. A PDC official said Blake has been asked to update his records.

There is one other Washington political candidate who hired the Rossettis to produce campaign materials — Kurt Anagnostou, a Cowlitz County PUD commissioner who was eliminated in the August Primary. He is JD Rossetti’s divorce attorney.



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