His interests on behalf of the sound aligned with those of his son, David Dicks, who at the time was interviewing to be executive director for a newly created state agency, the Puget Sound Partnership. In August 2007, he got the job, which required him to develop a plan for coordinating state and federal efforts to clean up the nation’s second-largest estuary, which is only overshadowed by the Chesapeake Bay.
Over the next four years, father and son worked in tandem to restore Puget Sound, with the congressman directing millions more to the work, including a $1.82 million earmark and more than $14 million in grants and other funds that went to his son’s agency. There were no competitors for the funds.
The earmark and grants are unreported elements in the story of the father and son and Puget Sound, which has long been controversial in the Pacific Northwest, spawning charges of nepotism, waste and no-bid contracts, according to state audits and political opponents.
Norm Dicks lost his chairmanship in the Republican takeover of the House in 2010, and his son stepped down from his $129,000-a-year job around the same time.
The case illustrates the complications that can arise when a lawmaker’s congressional actions benefit not only his district but also a family member. Both father and son insist they were only trying to save the environment and serve the people of Washington.
“This is a very important issue for the people in my state. This isn’t about me or my son,” the 71-year-old congressman said during an interview in his Capitol office. “David got the job through a competitive process
. . .
he had the passion for the job.”
David Dicks, 40, said the group’s success in pursuing federal funds was because his father had become chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on the interior, environment and related agencies.
“He didn’t have the power to do this before,” David Dicks said. “He didn’t do it for me; he did it because he cares about Puget Sound and he finally had the ability to do something about it.”
But their critics say good intentions were undercut by favoritism.
“Everyone was scratching everyone’s back with this Puget Sound Partnership,” said Republican state Sen. Mark Schoesler, who has been a vocal critic of the partnership. “They were banking on daddy Dicks to bring money home, and then his son squandered it.”
Beginning in 2006, Congressman Dicks and David Dicks were both active in efforts to create a state agency to clean up the sound. The congressman served on the governor’s blue ribbon panel that recommended forming the partnership, which would serve as coordinator for local, state and federal efforts. David Dicks, an environmental lawyer, wrote passages in the panel’s final report on funding and political strategies for such a partnership.