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Murray’s money: Campaign cash has unknown future

SEATTLE — It’s rare that a sitting mayor has to defend himself like this. Public. Pricey. And surrounded by scandal.

Ed Murray’s personal lawyers want the city to approve a legal defense fund for people to donate to pay off the mayor’s legal bills stemming from accusations of child rape and prostitution.

But his stockpile of campaign money is very much alive.

“It has to be used for campaign purposes. It has to some way advance your campaign,” said Wayne Barnett with the city’s Ethics and Elections Commission.

Seattle's rules are even more strict than the state. For perspective, Murray's raised more than $374,000 and still has over $200,000 remaining as cash on hand.

Between now and the August primary, he can only refund the donations or give them to charity, Barnett said.

Then it becomes "surplus," and in Seattle it can't be held for some potential election down the road.

“Most incumbents were rolling over massive warchests and basically starting their future election cycle already standing on third base,” Barnett said.

Murray can give it to a political party or even the state's general fund, but a letter from Murray's legal team could carve new territory.

They want to create a legal defense fund, a tactic used in other states to help embattled politicos pay attorneys during a controversy.

Murray's people want direction from the ethics commission.

Barnett said Seattle's history of above-board campaigning could face challenges with this defense fund.

“It`s kind of in the DNA of this city. I think it`s a West Coast thing. I think generally when we think of the East Coast, we tend to think of more corruption,” he said.

The mayor took no questions during his news conference Tuesday, so there isn't a clear answer which of those narrow options he's going to choose for his surplus.

His legal team doesn't want to wait long for an answer on the defense fund, either. The commission will hear their pitch next Tuesday.