King County Democrats Chair Bailey Stober Resigns After 13-Hour Trial Finds Him Guilty of Workplace Misconduct

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Bailey Stober, the chairman of the King County Democrats, resigned last night after a 13-hour internal trial that ultimately found him guilty on five counts relating to workplace misconduct and sexual harassment of a former employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo, whom he fired shortly after a third party filed a complaint against him on Koss Vallejo’s behalf (and, she says, without her knowledge). Stober’s resignation, which will take effect next Saturday, comes after more than two months of internal and external debate about his actions as party chair, including three separate internal investigations into both the workplace misconduct allegations and charges of financial misconduct.

Koss Vallejo, who has been barred from speaking on her own behalf because the entire process, including the trial, has been held under Robert’s Rules of Order, which only gives “voice” to voting members of the group, says she’s relieved by the outcome but does not feel victorious. “This does not feel like a win to me. I am grateful that he did finally step down, because, as everyone knows, his grandstanding and drawing this process out was only hurting Democrats,” she says. “However the fact that I and many other nameless people who were involved had to give their time and their emotional and mental energy to this process for over nine weeks means that the process is still flawed, and we have a lot of work to do to correct this so that this never happens again.” Specifically, Koss Vallejo points to the fact that the King County Democrats do not have a formal HR policy or any policy for dealing with allegations against a Party member by someone who is not within the formal party structure, such as an employee.

Stober has said he fired Koss Vallejo after she “vandalized” a car in a parking lot because it had a hat with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement logo displayed in the back window; a video of the incident, obtained by Stober and posted to Youtube by an anonymous account called “DemsAre BadPeople,” shows her tossing the contents of a cup on the hood of the car, which she says were the dregs of an iced coffee. The firing Stober has also claimed that he had consent from his then-vice chairwoman, Cat Williams, and his treasurer, Nancy Podschwit, to fire Koss Vallejo, which both Williams and Podschwit have denied.

Yesterday’s trial addressed only the workplace misconduct allegations (I’ve covered the financial charges before, including here and here), which included the following claims:

– That Stober repeatedly pressured Koss Vallejo to drink to excess;

–  That Koss Vallejo had told numerous people that she was afraid Stober would retaliate against her if she brought up her concerns;

– That Stober fired Koss Vallejo without consulting with the board’s vice chairwoman or the treasurer of the group;

– That Stober called her a “bitch” and a “cunt” while they were out drinking;

– That Stober sprayed Koss Vallejo with Silly String while she was driving; and

– That Stober had grabbed Koss Vallejo’s phone while she was in the restroom and posted “I shit my pants” on her Facebook timeline without her knowledge.

Last night, Stober was apologetic but defiant when he emerged from the closed-door trial shortly after 11pm to announce his resignation “after 11 years of Party leadership.” (Stober is 26 and has been chair of the group for a little over one year). “If I have to be the first one to go through this process to open our eyes to the flaws that we have … so be it,” Stober said, adding that it was especially difficult for him to sit through his own trial for 13 hours and listen to people “debate whether or not I’m a horrible person.” Some of Stober’s supporters have insinuated that his opponents are engaging in a racially biased witch hunt against him, even though several of Koss Vallejo’s most vocal supporters, and Koss Vallejo herself, are women of color.

Stober sat in the room throughout the trial as witnesses, including his alleged victim and her supporters, gave testimony and were cross-examined by representatives from both the “prosecution” and the “defense,” much as they would in a legal trial. Yesterday, witnesses described the process as intimidating and re-traumatizing, and said at times it seemed as though Koss Vallejo and other people who agreed to testify on her behalf were the ones on trial. At one point, an executive board member reportedly asked a witness at length about whether Koss Vallejo used illegal substances. Witnesses said the line of questioning seemed intended to imply she had a drug problem and was therefore an unreliable witness—the kind of off-point question that is often used in legal trials to discredit victims and refocus attention away from the person accused of misconduct or worse.

Oddly, given how many statements Stober has made on his own behalf on his own website, on Facebook, in meetings, and in emails to the Party members who would have been voting on his fate next weekend if he had not stepped down last night, yesterday’s trial was Koss Vallejo’s first official opportunity to speak on her own behalf. After the meeting, Koss Vallejo said that the process that led up to the trial has treated her as if “I didn’t exist”; for example, while Stober was given a chance to review all the evidence against him nearly a week in advance of the trial, Koss Vallejo says she still has not seen any of the evidence, and only found out when and where the trial would be held through word of mouth from friends, since she is not on any official Party email list. “The whole process treated me like I literally wasn’t a person, and that was one of the most frustrating things about it,” she says.

Prior to Stober’s resignation, two-thirds of his executive board signed a petition calling for his resignation, which triggered the scheduling of a vote by all the precinct committee officers (low-ranking party officials) in the county; if two-thirds of the PCOs at that meeting had voted to remove him, Stober would have lost his position involuntarily. (Prior to that, district Democratic groups across King County passed resolutions calling for his resignation, and several voted to withhold funds from the organization until Stober stepped down. More than 200 Democratic Party members, including several elected officials, also signed a letter calling for his resignation.) At the moment, the organization is basically insolvent; as of late last month, according to recent a financial report from King County Democrats chair Nancy Podschwit, the group had just $3,200 in the bank, with thousands of dollars of outstanding obligations and a potential fine from the state over campaign finance violations from 2016, before Stober was chair, that could total tens of thousands of dollars.

Separately, a court just ordered Stober to pay more than $5,000 in attorney’s fees in an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office into campaign finance violations Stober allegedly committed in his capacity as both a candidate for Kent City Council and as King County Democrats chair—a case that has not been resolved, in part, because Stober has refused to turn over documents to the state—and several other campaign finance allegations against him remain pending. And his employer, the King County Assessor’s Office, is spending up to $10,000 on a separate investigation to determine whether his workplace behavior as the Democrats’ chair has any bearing on his ability to perform his job as communications director for the office. He is currently on paid leave from that position, which pays more than $90,000.

 

Embattled King County Democrats Chair Remains in Power, But Financial and Political Difficulties Deepen

Quick commercial break: This story took many hours of reporting, including but by no means limited to most of the day today and the five-hour meeting I sat through in Tukwila last night. If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, including long-form stories like this one, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

In a meeting Tuesday night in Tukwila that lasted nearly five hours, including an almost three-hour closed-door executive session from which officials repeatedly emerged to make sure no members of the press were listening at the doors and that no members of the body were “leaking” information about what was going on inside, the King County Democrats decided to appoint a five-member panel to conduct a new investigation into the group’s embattled chairman, Bailey Stober.  Stober, as I reported Monday, is accused of verbally harassing and bullying the group’s former executive director Natalia Koss Vallejo, whom he fired on February 2, and misusing party funds.

Stober did not step down and continues to deny every charge against him. He has been on paid administrative leave from his job as communications director for King County Assessor John Arthur Wilson since February 12 “so the Department of Assessments can gather and review information about allegations against him related to his position as Chair of the King County Democrats,” according to King County chief deputy assessor Al Dams.

The panel charged with investigating Stober, which is supposed to be appointed within the next two to three days, will include two people hand-picked by Stober himself. The third member is supposed to be appointed jointly by Stober and the two party vice-chairs who investigated the initial complaint and concluded that most of the charges were “founded,” and the other two are supposed to be appointed by the vice-chairs. I say “supposed to” because one of the two remaining vice chairs, Michael Maddux, resigned on Wednesday night; a second vice chair, Cat Williams, had already stepped down before last night’s meeting and sent a statement to the meeting about why she stepped down, which was read during the executive session. On Wednesday night, Maddux told me he resigned because Stober “does not care about protecting workers.  In fact, thanks to expanding the scope of the investigation to include finding whoever leaked [the vice chairs’ report on the complaint], what they really care about is protecting themselves—not protecting, workers not protecting women. It shows what their priorities are, and that’s not an organization I’m willing to be associated with.”

On Wednesday night, former vice chair Michael Maddux said he resigned because Stober “does not care about protecting workers.  In fact, thanks to expanding the scope of the investigation to include finding whoever leaked [the vice chairs’ report on the complaint], what they really care about is protecting themselves.

“It shows what their priorities are, and that’s not an organization I’m willing to be associated with.”

The group will also do a separate investigation, requested by Stober, into the vice chairs’ investigation itself, which Stober and his supporters say was unfair and incomplete. In his complaint, Stober claims, among other charges, that the vice chairs violated the group’s anti-harassment policy by “promoting and sharing ‘offensive written comments,'” which appears to refer to the obscene names he is accused of using to describe Koss Vallejo. Finally, the group plans to do another separate investigation, added last night, into who “leaked” documents and details of what transpired during the executive session Tuesday night to the press, including me. (More on that in a moment.)

According to the report on the complaint distributed in yesterday’s closed session, Koss Vallejo described

extensive harassment on behalf of Stober, including being called ‘bitch,’ ‘cunt,’ ‘slut,’ and being demeaned regularly in front of other people in the political community. She recounted him taking her phone and posting an obscene post to her Facebook while she was using the restroom, and not alerting her for an hour, during which numerous people saw and interacted with the post. She recounted an instance wherein she was driving, and Stober was a passenger, and he sprayed a bottle of silly string in her face and mouth, while recording on his phone, ultimately posting to Instagram. She reported numerous instances of Stober making threats with financials toward her, and referring to her and [another party cited in the complaint] in derogatory terms when they questioned the efficacy of his spending habits. She described extensive demands on her to engage in excessive drinking, and last minute trips to Eastern Washington, with fears of retaliation if she did not comply. [Koss Vallejo has requested a separate meeting to discuss her termination and indicated potential retaliation from Stober. She expressed concerns about Stober sharing misinformation about her termination during the upcoming Special Meeting.

The atmosphere at Tuesday night’s marathon meeting was one of grievance, anger, and high-pitched paranoia. Before those of us who were not voting or invited members of the group were asked to leave, the group’s treasurer, Nancy Podschwit, confirmed and elaborated on what she told me over the weekend: The King County Democrats are out of money, and have been both overspending and bringing in far less money than their budget assumes. In January and February of this year, according to a documented distributed by Podschwit, the organization was supposed to bring in $27,649. Instead, they raised just $7,023, leaving the group with just $3,886 at the end of February. Podscwit said yesterday that the group will be “in the red three grand” by the time she pays all their bills this month, including an $1,800-a-month lease for office space in Auburn, and that’s before an anticipated fine stemming from campaign reporting violation charges from the state attorney general’s office that could total tens of thousands of dollars more.

“She described extensive demands on her to engage in excessive drinking, and last minute trips to Eastern Washington, with fears of retaliation if she did not comply.”

Last night, Stober, who told me over the weekend that the organization was doing fine financially—”I am sitting in the Party office with the rent paid, lights on, heat blasting and nothing is suffering here,” he said—suddenly produced a check for $5,000 he said he had just procured; later, I confirmed that this check was from King County Executive Dow Constantine, who pledged the money in November and just paid up this month. However, Wednesday afternoon, Constantine confirmed that he had rescinded the check pending the outcome of the investigation. In response to my tweet confirming that he had asked for the money back, Constantine tweeted, “The recent check to the King County Democrats has been put on hold. It was for the balance of a pledge from 2017. I regularly donate to the State, County, and my local LD Dem organizations, and others. I look forward to helping KCD again as soon as this issue has been resolved.”

In last night’s executive session, Podshwit said Stober’s spending outside what was allowed by the adopted budget included $3,000 in excessive expenditures on travel and entertainment and $14,000 in excessive expenditures on candidate contributions. Podschwit said that she had resigned three times over what she considered Stober’s excessive spending, and that whenever she questioned him about spending funds that were not authorized by the adopted budget, she was told that he had “ultimate power.”

For more details on Stober’s spending, which included thousands of dollars on hotels, at bars and restaurants, and a weekend Vashon Island retreat for party members at a pricey Airbnb house that included a hot tub, check out my original post.

In last night’s executive session, Stober was asked to step aside temporarily while the investigation was ungoing; he refused.  “No. You want to come see the evidence, come see the evidence,” he said. Stober was also given the opportunity to speak at length about how he felt about the allegations. (Koss Vallejo and her invited witnesses were not allowed to speak, except to answer a single question about what time on February 2 Stober fired Koss Vallejo). Stober claimed his attorney had told him that his opponents could not try him in a court of law but that they would try him “in the court of public opinion,” and spoke repeatedly about “justice” and “due process,” invoking Martin Luther King Junior and the fact that “we teach our children the value of fairness” but seem to have forgotten what that means. He spoke so loudly and adamantly that at one point, a member asked him to take a less aggressive tone, and he responded by saying that people tend to get fired up when they’re “falsely accused.”

When I spoke with him by phone and later by email over the weekend, Stober denied all of the charges, including the financial allegations and the claim that he bullied or used inappropriate language around Koss Vallejo. “When there’s an investigation committee or whatever the board decides to  do, you wouldn’t see me saying any of those things,” Stober told me. “You wouldn’t see anything like that. As soon as I give it to an investigator, I’m more than happy to say it to the media as well. It’s just not existent. I went through every text, every Facebook message, every email exchange I ever have had—no.”

The allegations, it’s worth noting, appear to be about verbal, not written, communications; therefore, any review of documents would not address the verbal behavior that was described in the complaint. However, screen shots of what appear to be text message exchanges between Stober, Koss-Vallejo, and another Party official appear to contradict at least the spirit of Stober’s claim. In the texts, Stober appears to make numerous disparaging jokes about women, complaining that the organizers of the Women’s March in Seattle chose to hold their annual Day of Action on January 21, one day after the King County Democrats had planned their own event. “Goddamnit, we need to tell the Women’s March to know their fucking role,” a text message that appears to be from Stober says. “THEY GONNA BAKE COOKIES ALL DAY TO PROTEST? CLEAN THE HOUSE?? JESUS.” In another message, Stober appears to joke about printing off an award certificate recognizing a party member accused of raping a woman at the group’s annual retreat last year as “party rapist of the year so everyone feels better.” Another shows an image of a monkey at a desk, with the message “Honestly looks like Natalia trying to work.”

In another message, Stober appears to joke about printing off an award certificate recognizing a party member accused of raping a woman at the group’s annual retreat last year as “party rapist of the year so everyone feels better.”

I asked Stober specifically about these messages, along with another one suggesting that another person in the thread “send [former King County Democratic Party chair] Rich Erwin a chocolate covered dildo and tell him to get fucked,” via email. Stober responded: “I’m not going to have this trial occur in the media – it doesn’t respect my board, the process or due process. But I will say this – my close circle of friends and advisors have engaged in internal jokes and conversations that could have and should have been avoided and we will address that and improve. But for Natalia to pretend that is one sided is a far stretch. … Here is one of MANY screenshots I’ll be turning over to investigators to show Natalia engaging in the same behavior she’s now accusing others of.”

Attached was a screen shot of an apparent text message exchange in which Koss Vallejo making a mild fat-shaming joke about an unknown person. The implication appeared to be that if an employee who answered to Stober made off-color jokes, it makes his own comments excusable. One important issue that has surfaced during the #MeToo era is the fact that women in subordinate positions who have been harassed or sexually assaulted by more powerful men (such as men who have the ability to fire them) often appear “chummy” with the men who are targeting them (a word used by one of Stober’s defenders, 34th District Democrats chairman David Ginsberg, in the initial story on the complaint in the Seattle Times), appearing cheerful in photos or going along with behavior they may not feel comfortable with.
Stober has consistently claimed that he did not get an opportunity to respond to the vice chairs’ investigation, and specifically that he was not given an opportunity to be interviewed himself. Last night, he said the meeting was “the first time I have ever seen” the full report on the investigation. The vice-chairs, he said in our conversation last weekend, reached out to him late in the afternoon of February 2, when the complaint was filed, and told him that “they were going to interview me. All I asked for is, ‘I can’t do it this week, but I can do it any time after that.’ My week was booked.” That same day, Stober called a special meeting of the Democrats so he could hold an executive session “to brief the board on sensitive materials.” Those materials turned out to include details about why he said he fired Koss Vallejo, according to witnesses.
Back at the King County Democrats meeting, I spent three hours sitting outside the room with several representatives from the live-streaming organization King County Precinct Committee Officers Media Group and a number of people who had been asked to leave the room. I set up my computer on the floor outside, where, very quickly, it became obvious that Stober and his allies were extremely concerned about “leaks” from people inside the meeting. Not only did Stober claim, in open session, that people who talked to the press about what happened in executive session might be subject to a libel lawsuit, he claimed in the executive session to have “sworn statements” from “members of the media” that would prove that the vice chairs had leaked documents about the investigation before he had a chance to review them. At one point, a  sergeant at arms came out and told me she had been asked to stand watch over me and make sure I didn’t communicate with anyone inside the meeting. (I declined to let her stand over my shoulder and look at my computer, and she made it clear she didn’t have any interest in doing so in the first place.) The sergeant at arms, Galaxy Marshall, told me she had also been told that I went into the women’s restroom at the same time as Koss Vallejo, and that she was supposed to ask me what we talked about. Obviously, I declined to do that as well (it was clear that Marshall didn’t want to monitor me at the time, and she said as much herself on Twitter the following day.)
In the day or so since the meeting, I have spoken to several members of the King County Democrats who are thinking of leaving the group. Their shared frustration can be summed up as: This is not what we signed up for. Even if there is a new investigation into Stober, the vice chairs, and the so-called “leakers,” it will almost certainly take months, and require everyone involved, including Koss Vallejo, to be interviewed again, a process that could involve responding to submissions from Stober like the trove of text messages from Koss Vallejo that he appears to believe will vindicate him. Stober has reportedly suggested that bad press from “leaks” is at least partly to blame for the group’s anemic fundraising. I would argue that the existence of a significant investigation into sexual harassment and financial impropriety is more damaging to the King County Democrats than “leaks.” Moreover, “find the leakers” is a phrase more closely associated with a different political party.
*Quick civics lesson: Whistleblowing, or “leaking,” is free speech protected under the First Amendment that is backed up by considerable case law. Truth is an absolute defense to libel. Reporting a fact that another person wants to conceal is not libel. Also, Robert’s Rules of Order, the rules under which the King County Democrats generally operate, is not the law.

Defiant King County Democratic Chair, Under Pressure Over Misconduct Allegations, Says He Won’t Resign

Democratic Party elected officials, staffers, and volunteers are calling for the resignation of the 26-year-old chairman of the King County Democratic Party, Bailey Stober, after allegations (first reported by the Seattle Times) that Stober harassed and bullied a female staffer, Natalia Koss-Vallejo, before firing her a little over two weeks ago. Stober said he fired Koss-Vallejo after and incident in Bellingham on January 28 in which she tossed the dregs of an iced coffee onto a car that had an ICE cap displayed in its back window. Asked why the firing, which took place on February 2, was so urgent that he couldn’t wait to consult his organization’s board, Stober said, “I’m elected to lead our organization, essentially as the CEO, and sometimes I have to make decisions in a timely manner, and waiting a month to fire someone is not timely.”) Full disclosure: I worked with Koss Vallejo at NARAL Pro-Choice Washington between May 2016 and March 2017. She was a field organizer, and I was a part-time communications director.

Earlier this month, three vice chairs of the group launched an investigation in response to a third-party complaint about Stober’s behavior and concluded that in the months before he fired her, he had called Koss-Vallejo a “cunt” and a “stupid bitch,” pressured her repeatedly to go out drinking with him, created an intimidating workplace environment, and misappropriated Party funds.

A week or so after receiving the complaint  (according to a report signed by all three vice chairs, they received a verbal complaint on January 24, followed by a formal written complaint on February 1), the chairs called for Stober’s resignation or, failing that, limitations on his ability to spend money and hire or fire staff. Since last week, more than 70 people, including former state Rep. Jessyn Farrell and current state Sen. Lisa Wellman, have signed an open letter calling for him to step down. “Numerous members of the organization have witnessed and expressed concerns about his fiscal irresponsibility, his bullying, and his outright harassment over the course of many months,” the letter says.

“This verbal harassment of many individuals included derogatory comments about weight, hair color, relationship status and other sensitive personal topics.”—Campaign volunteer Melissa Taylor

In a statement, a campaign volunteer who shared the office in Auburn with Stober and Koss-Vallejo, Melissa Taylor, said she had witnessed “a significant amount of verbal harassment by Bailey of Natalia and other volunteers” and had been approached by two other unidentified woman about Stober’s inappropriate behavior. “This verbal harassment of many individuals included derogatory comments about weight, hair color, relationship status and other sensitive personal topics,” Taylor wrote.

Taylor, who was on the co-founding committee for an organization called Emerge Washington that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office, said she approached Stober repeatedly about his behavior. “If Bailey had engaged in any of the conversations that I and others tried to have … if he had shown any ability to be reflective—[like] ‘I may have hurt somebody and maybe I didn’t mean it’—but there was none of that. And so, for me, it’s his behavior after there was an investigation that gets me to the point that I think he has to resign. Contrition and remorse and a resolve to fixing the behavior would go a long way.”

In the course of reporting this story, I spoke with more than a dozen women and men who have worked or interacted with Stober over the years. Many of them describe a pattern of behavior that they say includes bullying, repeated comments on women’s appearances, and pressure to drink alcohol. Two provided a link to a video in which Stober can be seen berating a volunteer for speaking out of order (Editor’s note: I have removed the link to the video at the woman’s request.) “I’m realizing how much stuff I let go because I didn’t realize, ‘Okay, this is unprofessional,” says Rachael Ludwick, committeewoman for the 37th District, speaking in her capacity as an individual. “Some of the less egregious behavior was happening in meetings, like aggressively berating people—can you imagine how is he going to act with someone he has power over?”

Summer Stinson, an employment attorney who serves as policy director for the 36th District Democrats, says she told Stober “he needed to be more aware of his treatment of women”; after that didn’t happen, she says, she helped the woman who originally called one of the vice chairs file a formal complaint about Stober’s alleged behavior toward Koss-Vallejo.

Stober has denied all the allegations. In a defiant video originally posted publicly on Facebook,, Stober called the investigation “farcical and a sloppy disaster” and claimed that he was denied “due process” in what he called a “he said she said” case.

“I’m embarrassed to have to waste your time,” Stober tells the camera. “When you challenge the status quo, when you stand up to power, and you do so apologetically, they come for you. They work to silence you, to discredit you, and to make you go away.”

In an interview, Stober told me he was not given sufficient time to respond to the charges, and that he would cooperate fully with a “fair investigation.” (The complaint was filed on February 1 and the vice-chairs finished their preliminary investigation on February 5.) “It’s impossible to disprove something that didn’t happen and where there’s been no fair investigation,” he said.

In the Facebook post accompanying his video, Stober quotes Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg explaining why people accused in court have a right to due process. “[T]he person who is accused has a right to defend herself or himself,” the post quotes Ginsberg as saying. “I couldn’t agree more,” Stober added. Due process—a term that has come up frequently in response to harassment and assault allegations in the #MeToo era—is a legal term that does not necessarily apply to the removal of volunteer officers of political parties. Stober’s post concludes with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.” “The Negros’ great stumbling block in the drive toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice.” In a post on the 36th District  Democrats’ Facebook page denouncing Stober and calling for his resignation, Sophia Danenberg, a state party commiteewoman for the district, said that “seeing a harasser use an MLK quote today to defend his irresponsible, bullying, dangerous behaviors made me want to vomit.” (I have quoted Danenberg’s post with her permission.)

“Sexual harassment? It didn’t occur, period. … I’m gay. I’m not sexually harassing women. It’s impossible.”—King County Democratic Party Chairman Bailey Stober

Stober told me over the weekend that he has no plans to resign. “Sexual harassment? It didn’t occur, period,” he says. “I’m gay. I’m not sexually harassing women. It’s impossible.” (Gay men can sexually harass women. As Taylor notes, harassment “isn’t about sex; it’s about power.”) As for calling Koss Vallejo a “cunt,” Stober says he hasn’t used “the ‘c’ word” since he was 15 and his mom socked him in the mouth for muttering it under his breath, and that he and his friends may say things like “bitch, please” privately, but that he would never call a woman a bitch in a disparaging manner.

In another example of behavior that Koss Vallejo says crossed a line, she and several other women say that Stober grabbed Koss Vallejo’s phone one night at a bar and, using her Facebook account, posted “I shit my pants” on her Facebook wall. Stober said he could not comment on that allegation. In another incident, which Stober filmed and posted on his public Instagram feed, Stober can be seen spraying Koss Vallejo with Silly String while she is driving her car. The caption: “My bad.”

Stober called a special executive session for February 8, at which he discussed his reasons for firing Koss Vallejo with members of the group’s executive board, according to witnesses. He says the incident with the cup of coffee, which was caught on security footage and posted to Youtube by an anonymous account called DemsAre BadPeople that has one follower and one post, was only the latest in a number of “incidents of immaturity that occurred throughout [Koss Vallejo’s] employment.” A source with direct access to the video says Stober is the one who requested it; Stober denies that he did so.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Stober told me. “If she were a junior staffer somewhere, we would coach and correct, but you can’t be the executive director and pour coffee all over someone’s car because you disagree with their First Amendment rights.” (Both Koss Vallejo and the treasurer of the King County Democrats say Stober offered Koss Vallejo a raise a few months before she was fired. Stober denies this, saying that he “put a raise in the budget to give to the Executive Director position not because of the incumbent in the role but because when I created the position I promised my Board that I would do my best to increase the salary in the next year to a more adequate cost of living for how expensive King County was.”

“Deals are made over drinks,” Stober said. “Meetings occur in bars. It’s not the 8 to 5 business world where you meet at Starbucks all the time. It’s a different culture, and people need to realize that.”

After the vice chairs announced the results of their investigation, Stober filed his own counterclaim against two of the three vice chairs, Michael Maddux and Orchideh Raisdanai (Cat Williams, the third vice chair, resigned in the midst of the fracas over Stober’s leadership), charging that they had overstepped their authority and were behaving “in a dictator type fashion.” In the four-page memo, Stober also accused Maddux of violating the King County Democrats’ harassment policy by “promoting and sharing uninvestigated ‘offensive written comments’—the contents of the complaint itself, which included the words “bitch” and “cunt”— and said that he is “in consultation with counsel on the libel and defamation that have been done by the named parties and how it has impacted the organization and me personally.”

In her statement, Koss Vallejo describes the atmosphere Stober created at the office as “relentlessly unprofessional, abusive, and sophomoric … Bailey was, at first, exciting to work around—but the novelty of having a boss who liked to ‘party’ wore off quickly. A pattern of harassment and abuse, directed at me and many others, began to become clear.”

Adam Bartz, the executive director of the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign, said he has heard that people in the party are “scared to come out for fear of their future… and that’s really concerning to me.”

Some chalk Stober’s alleged behavior up to a “culture” in the Democratic Party that includes rough language, rude jokes, heavy drinking, and behavior that would be out of bounds in a corporate office. I asked Stober about that—and, specifically, how much drinking played a role in King County Democratic Party business. “Deals are made over drinks,” Stober said. “Meetings occur in bars. It’s not the 8 to 5 business world where you meet at Starbucks all the time. It’s a different culture, and people need to realize that.”

But Brent Williams-Ruth, the former state committeeman for the 30th District Democrats, said he was shocked by his first interaction with Stober, at a bar in Walla Walla during an event for the state Democratic Party last year. (The event was the same one at which a Party official allegedly raped a college-age volunteer, as reported in the Spokane Spokesman-Review last year.)

“I came down to the bar, and he was very animated, [with a] red, flushed face, and he was using all this profane, vulgar language about how a lot of the people on his email list were Republicans and they could suck his cock,” Williams-Ruth says. “We’re in the heart of a red town, in a public place, where any of these bartenders or servers could be pulling out their phones and putting this on Youtube.” Williams-Ruth says he finished his drink and went back to his room to order Pizza Hut—“I have the receipts, literally,” he says—and “after that incident, I felt like this was not someone I wanted to work with. It showed  me how completely inappropriate and unprepared he was for a leadership position, because that’s just not language you use in a professional setting.”

Asked to respond to Williams-Ruth’s statement, Stober said, “I was in the hotel bar for a short period of time but was with dozens of people whom did not seem to hear the statements that Brent did. That is a pretty far stretch from reality.” He noted that he made a joint appearance with King County Republican Party Chair Lori Sotelo to speak in favor of legislation reforming the state’s public disclosure law, which I covered; would  Sotelo have done that, he asked rhetorically, “if I talked that way about Republicans?” He would trust Sotelo “to be a character witness before I trusted someone attempting to verify claims with Pizza Hut receipts,” Stober added.

Williams-Ruth now says  “I no longer have any love for the party, “adding that his interactions with Stober are one reason he decided to leave his position. “I have love for the people and the candidates and the mission, but this party bullshit has driven me away.”

Several people I spoke to who recounted incidents involving Stober told me they are personally afraid of speaking out about him, because he wields considerable power in the party and because he has already threatened, in his letter, to sue the vice chairs for libel and defamation. Adam Bartz, the executive director of the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign, said he has heard that people in the party are “scared to come out for fear of their future… and that’s really concerning to me.” Earlier this month, Bartz sent an email to Democratic Senators informing him that he had advised his staff to have no contact with Stober and advising them to do the same.

“When you look back to your 20s, you think of people [in power] as so old,” Williams-Ruth says. “They think he has the ability to ruin their life forever.”

Somewhat lost in the furor about the sexual harassment allegations is another, less salacious but, the vice chairs say, equally important charge: Misuse of King County party funds, specifically on “hotel rooms … and food when unnecessary,” as the vice chairs’ memo puts it. In their memo, the vice chairs say they determined that charge to be “founded,” along with the allegation that “staff is continuously scared of not being paid because there is not enough money in the bank.”

A look at the county party’s official filings with the state Public Disclosure Commission confirms that spending increased significantly during Stober’s year as chair—from $73,732 in 2016 to $135,378 last year—but that contributions increased as well, from $78,719 to $163,033. However, the group had just over $20,000 in the bank at the end of February—far less than they spent in any single month in 2017 after Koss Vallejo was hired in  August, according to PDC reports.  And that money doesn’t include any funds that were spent after January 31. “We’re broke right now,” King County Democrats treasurer Nancy Podcshwit says bluntly. “The rent is due in March, I have some legal bills I have to pay, and unless we get some money in, we’re in trouble.”

Podschwit says she was stunned by some of the expenditures that would show up on the organization’s bank statements: $7,127 on equipment and furniture to set up a new office last summer; Comcast bills that ran to $700 a month or more; and thousands of dollars in miscellaneous costs for Stober to travel around the state, including a mileage reimbursement—all apparently unusual practices for the chair of a county Democratic Party organization, particularly the mileage reimbursement, which Podschwit says was unprecedented for a King County party chair.

Koss Vallejo says Stober would frequently assure her pressure her to make major purchases, including an iPhone, using party money, assuring her that the spending was allowed under the budget approved by the party organization. “He seems to think that hypothetical budgets translate into actual dollars, which they don’t,” Koss Vallejo says. “You can budget for anything you want—you can budget for a unicorn, a bouncy castle, and a pony, and even if the board approves it, that doesn’t make the dollars manifest in your bank account.”

Stober acknowledges that he “encouraged Natalia to look into a business line for herself rather than giving out her personal number,” but denies that the organization has ever been in financial straits. “These past two months have been slow months for sure, as they are with most political organizations, but we just got a substantial check yesterday, so everything is continuing just fine,” Stober said Monday night. “I am sitting in the Party office with the rent paid, lights on, heat blasting and nothing is suffering here.”

“You can budget for anything you want—you can budget for a unicorn, a bouncy castle, and a pony, and even if the board approves it, that doesn’t make the dollars manifest in your bank account.”—Former King County Democratic Party executive director Natalia Koss Vallejo

Asked about some of his specific expenditures, Stober told me he needed to spend money to raise money, and said that he has raised “more money than the organization has raised in two decades. If I’m going to go ask somebody for $5,000, I’m going cover their lunch at the meeting. That’s how political fundraising has worked for decades.” Expense reports at the PDC include thousands of dollars that were either spent by the party or reimbursed to Stober for everything from candidate interviews and “entertainment” at Collins Pub in downtown Seattle ($134 over two visits), to unspecified “food and entertainment” and “meeting” expenses incurred by Stober (more than $1,700 spread over several expense reports that do not include a precise breakdown of expenditures), to mileage and parking costs totaling nearly $1,900.

The expense reports also include more than $1,700 in unspecified “expenses under $50,” as well as thousands of dollars spent on travel and retreats for Stober and other campaign volunteers, including an $1,826 Airbnb bill last December for a two-day January executive retreat on Vashon Island. Stober posted about the island retreat on Facebook: “The macaroni and cheese and ribs are cooking, the rosé is poured, the hot tub is fired up and the King County Democrats leadership retreat has begun.” Three weeks after that, Stober listed some stops on his travel schedule:

Stinson, the 36th District policy director, says, “I will tell you: It is a hard thing to raise enough money to continuously pay someone. I don’t even take money when I’m driving down to Olympia [on party business or for political advocacy.] So to see that there’s a retreat on a house on an island and that they didn’t get it donated … then you wonder how are you paying a staff member.”

Stober says his cross-state travel involved important party-building activities in parts of the state, like Eastern Washington, where the Democratic Party has few resources. “When I ran for county party chair, one of the things I said is that in King County, we’re lucky because we’re rich in resources. We’re the bluest county in the state, and part of my goal as chair will be to export some of those resources to places that are red.” However, several party members mentioned the widespread rumor that Stober is planning to challenge current Washington State Demorcratic Party chair Tina Podlodowski, and speculated that that ambitious goal is part of the reason for his frequent travel around the state. “Why is the King County Democratic chair going and meeting with people in Chelan and Walla Walla and Spokane? It’s because he was shoring up his votes from people who would vote for him for chair next year,” Williams-Ruth says.

When I asked about this, Stober acknowledged that running for state party chair is “something I’ve considered, and that a lot of folks have asked me to do,” but added, “Seeing the nasty politics of this situation definitely makes me lean in a ‘no’ direction.”

Koss Vallejo says that before he fired her, Stober told her that the group was about to be hit with a $35,000 penalty in a case stemming from a complaint about late filing that was initiated by conservative activist Glen Morgan. Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Brionna says the case “has not resolved,” and Stober said he couldn’t comment on ongoing litigation except to say that Koss Vallejo’s statement was “not true.”

Regardless of the ultimate size of the penalty, Podscwhit says that “because of [Stober’s] spending, we’re in a pretty precarious financial situation right now. “He certainly wasn’t authorized by the King County Democrats to spend that kind of money.” Under the King County Democrats’ bylaws, Stober didn’t have to ask for Podschwit’s approval to spend money on things like brand-new office equipment and an office space in Auburn that continues to cost the group $1,800 a month, but she says that if he had asked, “I would have told him we didn’t have the money to do it,” or to hire Koss Vallejo in the first place. “We don’t now, and we didn’t then.”

In addition to the complaint against the King County Democrats, Morgan has filed several campaign-finance complaints against Stober himself, including one alleging that Stober did campaign work while on the clock at his day job as spokesman for King County Assessor John Arthur Wilson and others claiming he failed to file timely reports during his three unsuccessful bids for Kent City Council.

In 2015, while Stober was seeking a council seat for the third time, the state Public Disclosure Commission ordered him to pay a fine of $4,000 in two of the cases instigated by Morgan, with $2,000 of that amount suspended as long as he did not commit additional campaign-finance violations. Last June, the Attorney General’s office filed a petition in King County Superior Court charging that Stober had failed to provide records in response to a complaint involving his 2015 campaign and asking the court to compel Stober to provide the documents.

Stober has filed his own complaints against other candidates, including Kent City council member Brenda Fincher (for late reports) and Kent School Board candidate Trisha Sanders (Stober, filing on behalf of one of Sanders’ opponents, claimed that Sanders had falsified her voter registration). Stober was not running against either candidate. In 2013, as an executive assistance for the chairman of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs, Ed Prince, Stober was quoted on KING 5 claiming that a previous director, Rosalund Jenkins, had spent commission funds improperly on what he called “absolutely crazy expenses” like food, greeting cards, and wine. (A subsequent audit found evidence of improper, but not illegal, expenditures.) And in 2014, Stober received a $125,000 settlement from the state over allegations that the director of the Washington State Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises, to whom he sometimes reported, had sexually harassed him by, among other things, making “vulgar” comments, according to a report on KING 5.

Stober bristles at the notion that controversies follow him around; rather, he suggests, “I think you get a lot of attention and get noticed when you speak what you believe  is your truth and you’re unapologetic about it. I don’t always color within the lines and I speak truth to power, and when I see an injustice I speak up about it.”

The King County Democrats will hold their regularly scheduled monthly meeting from 7 to 9:00 tonight at the Teamsters hall in Tukwila. As of Monday, Stober did not plan to resign. If he does not do so voluntarily, some board members have indicated that they will call for a vote to instigate a process to remove him, which requires approval from two-thirds of the board and a vote by the party’s precinct committee officers in two weeks. Stober says he thinks that outcome is unlikely, and says that “a large contingent of my board think this was not handled properly” and will call for a new investigation into the allegations. “If I step down, there will be no fair investigation to clear my name,” Stober says. “We used to live in a country where a crime could be committed and [people could] point at a person of color and they would be sentenced without any crime being committed. If we’re going to value justice as a party, part of that is due process.”

I pointed out to Stober that many of the men who have been accused of sexual harassment and assault as part of the MeToo movement have also called for “due process,” and asked him if he felt MeToo had gone too far. He paused, then said, “The hell that I’m going through compares not even in the slightest to the trauma that so many women go through every day.” Then he returned to due process. “So many people posted pictures of Martin Luther King [on social media] on Martin Luther King Day, but they no longer believe in due process. Both inside and outside the MeToo movement, there has to be some level of justice.”

This story took many hours of reporting over the last two weeks. If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, including long-form stories based on dozens of hours of interviews, like this one, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.