“Solidarity Fund” Beneficiary Funded $6,000 in Sawant Travel Expenses


City Council member Kshama Sawant, who’s running to represent the city’s new District 3, invariably plugs the fact that she is “taking only the average workers’ salary,” $40,000, as a council member and contributing the remaining $80,000 or so to a “solidarity fund” to support various workers’ causes, on the campaign trail.

Yet a large chunk of that money, according to campaign finance filings, has paid for Sawant to take trips overseas and stateside to represent the Brooklyn-based group Socialist Alternative—an indirect subsidy by city taxpayers for Sawant to promote her personal and party brand in the United States and abroad.

According to a financial disclosure report filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission in 2015, Socialist Alternative paid for about $6,000 in travel expenses in 2014, including trips to rallies and conferences in Belgium, the UK, and Brazil. That means that the Socialist Alternative organization effectively served as a revolving fund for Sawant to deposit part of her city paycheck, then use that same money to send her around the world.

Philip Locker, Sawant’s generalist staffer and campaign spokesman, says the contributions from Sawant’s solidarity fund to Socialist Alternative “are not related to and are independent of any travel she undertakes on behalf of Socialist Alternative (or any other organization),” and that it’s typical for a group that “asks someone to travel to a conference to represent their organization” to pay for that travel. However, that group is, again, partly funded by Sawant.

There’s nothing ethically sketchy about that (Sawant could certainly spend $6,000 of her full paycheck on travel), and Sawant did report it appropriately, but it raises questions about how much the “solidarity fund” is for promoting workers’ interests and how much it’s for promoting Sawant and her growing international name recognition. Sawant could have just as easily paid for her travel out of her own $117,000 annual paycheck, but that expenditure wouldn’t have counted as money on the books for “worker solidarity.”

At a forum on June 19 at the New Hope Baptist Missionary Church in the Central District, for example, Sawant ignored a question about how she manages to live (and, for that matter, buy a three-bedroom home)— on $40,000 a year. The forum, which was already heated (it was around 9pm by this point, and three other council races had already preceded District 3), grew even more so as Sawant opponents/Banks supporters demanded that she answer the question and Sawant supporters/Banks opponents responded just as vehemently that the question was off-point and rude.

Sawant self-reports the uses of her solidarity fund on the Socialist Alternative website. So far in 2015, for example, Sawant has given $15,000 to the Seattle-based 15 Now minimum wage group (Locker says the group was having trouble educating workers about their rights under Seattle’s new minimum wage law, so Sawant helped their rollout campaign with $10,000) and $4,500 to Socialist Alternative.  In 2014, also according to Sawant’s self-reporting, she gave away $15,000 to 15 Now and $14,500 to Socialist Alternative, in addition to groups like the Transit Riders’ Union, Casa Latina, and Puget Sound Sage,  (Sawant’s net take-home pay is $40,000 after taxes of about $35,000, leaving about $42,000 for the solidarity fund.) In 2012, Socialist Alternative reported revenues of $138,544 to the IRS, so a contribution in the neighborhood of $15,000 would represent around 10 percent of the group’s total budget. Ted Virhone, one of Sawant’s council staffers, was listed that year as one of four Socialist Alternative directors.

Questions about Sawant’s financial situation have dogged her since her first campaign, when she refused to answer questions about her then-husband, Microsoft engineer Vivek Sawant, who was listed as contributing more than $100,000 to her annual household income on her financial disclosure funds. The couple was separated at the time and have since divorced, and Sawant’s supporters have said consistently that she did not benefit from her husband’s Microsoft income. (Legal spouses must be listed on financial disclosure forms).

Nonetheless, the question about her income (which Sawant and her supporters attributed to a “smear campaign” by the council incumbent she defeated, Richard Conlin, when I first covered the issue for PubliCola in 2013) has lingered, especially with her recent purchase of a $350,000 house in Leschi. Locker says Sawant is able to afford the house because she bought it jointly with her partner Calvin Priest, who works for Sawant’s campaign and sold his old house to help make the down payment.

28 thoughts on ““Solidarity Fund” Beneficiary Funded $6,000 in Sawant Travel Expenses”

  1. Clearly the school Erica attended was Wassmatta U – watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat! Incredibly ridiculous non-story. It’s election time folks, open season on the popular thorn-in-side socialist.

  2. She made it pretty clear that she was going to use that money in her solidarity fund to support political activities she is part of, that was never a secret. In her opinion those political activities are promoting workers interests. As a worker who just got a $1.50 raise I tend to agree. Pamela Banks and friends really have nothing to talk about other than the extravagant lifestyle Sawant lives in a,gasp, $350,000 house. Which is less than the Seattle median house value these days. There is nothing new, or illegal about a politician using their own personal money to support their poltiical activities. This is a non story. Pamela Bank’s campaign is really weak.

  3. Erica is convinced this is some kind of breaking-news conspiracy! She can’t even get the numbers right in her first paragraph. How is Sawant going to donate 80K, take home 40K from a 117K paycheck? Nothing goes to taxes, SSA or Medicaid? Or, is there some kind of conspiracy there too? Your convenient twisting of fact for clickbait is disgusting. You know, they’re always looking for “journalists” over at InfoWars.

  4. I think it’s interesting that Sawant’s claim to only take $40K in pay is misleading: it’s actually $40K after taxes, so she’s grossing about $57K annually. And the rest of the money remains under her personal control for donations to her political party, her travel expenses, and a few political and non-profit donations. So, basically, she’s taking a full salary, despite the socialist spin. Why so angry about solid reporting?

    1. And she still hasn’t answered the question of how she lives on $40k per year and owns a house. Lots of rumors about her wealthy father & his businesses & lifestyle, which she should just put to rest already.

      1. She’s been with her partner (who works in software) for years now. She’s been fairly open about it. Beyond that, it’s her own personal life. Unless you have actual evidence of actual wrongdoing or, at the very least, unethical behavior, this is pretty much a hit piece that relies on shaky conjecture at best.

      1. “Sawant’s net take-home pay is $40,000 after taxes of about $35,000, leaving about $42,000 for the solidarity fund.”

        Also, that link you provided is right in my piece. The new information is from her F1 filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission.

      2. Erica, I read your rant. Your 1st paragraph says this:
        City Council member Kshama Sawant, who’s running to represent the city’s new District 3, invariably plugs the fact that she is “taking only the average workers’ salary,” $40,000, as a council member and contributing the remaining $80,000 or so to a “solidarity fund” to support various workers’ causes, on the campaign trail.


  5. Good story. Typical political behavior. Things are never as they appear. Make a dramatic statement with big pay cut, then take some of that money back through another channel. Shame, shame. Or should I say Kshwama, Kshwama.

    1. Seriously, what’s with people purposefully misspelling her name? That isn’t even phonetically similar to “shame shame”.

  6. A ridiculous “article” what a joke. Go get a real job Erica, you’re clearly not a journalist. Crank is for what you’re smoking, you twit.

  7. The cat’s out of the bag. Your revulsion to Kshama and socialist alternative (and maybe socialism in general) are clear; you can’t even control it. The uncontrollable, spontaneous, look of disgust on your face when you glanced over at the SA table at the June candidate forum was obvious to everyone. There’s no point to the paltry masquerading, just come clean–you are Bill O’Reilly by a different stripe.

  8. What is this hit piece, Erica? She’s using her salary to travel to conferences, and she’s self-reporting it. So… why the gotcha tone? Why the innuendo about her house?

  9. So as we get closer to the election should we expect even more unhinged flailing for a story that doesn’t exist (as you yourself point out, there is no story; you’re just asking questions) and this is just the tip of the iceberg on some hot takes the likes of which we’ve never known?

    1. Did Kshama kill someone in 1999? I don’t know. I’m just asking questions.

  10. I don’t see what the issue here is. She said she’d only take home $40K and send the rest to a solidarity fund. That’s what she’s doing. If she’s traveling to speaking engagements for those groups, it’s not unreasonable to have travel expenses paid and it’s not like she’s receiving honorariums from those engagements.

    Was that money wasted on frivolous expenses? No, not as far as you’re reporting.

    Does she live with her partner of many years and share a house with him? Sure, there’s nothing wrong with that.

    Being a socialist doesn’t mean you have to smear mud on your face and run around in a potato sack.

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