Sawant’s City Printer Usage: 26 Hours, One “Tax Amazon” Rally, 4,000 Copies

A little over a week ago, during the council debate over the head tax, council member Sally Bagshaw called out her colleague, council member Kshama Sawant, for using the legislative department’s shared printer to print out a huge number of bright red posters advertising a rally Sawant was holding over the weekend to protest Amazon and create public pressure on the council to support the highest possible tax. “I just don’t think it is right for us to be using city resources or the copy machines to promote something that not all of us agree to,” Bagshaw said.

I wondered just what kind of resources Bagshaw was talking about, so I filed a records request to find out how Sawant’s printer usage compared to other council offices’. (Each office has its own printer, but big jobs—like, say, 11-by-17 color posters for political rallies—must be done on a large color printer in the second-floor printer room).

Unfortunately, the city wasn’t able to provide the most recent month’s invoice to its printer company, Ricoh, because that invoice wasn’t available yet. Printer costs have accelerated steadily through the year, however, growing from $493.86 in January to $1,231.46 in February to about $1,300 in March (the exact total is hard to extrapolate because the March bill includes rent for the copier itself, plus various taxes whose rates are unspecified).

Fortunately, the printer itself does save records for the most recent several days, broken down by document name and the name of the staffer requesting the print job. I made my request on May 14, the day  Bagshaw chided Sawant for using the council’s shared, city-funded printer to create her rally posters, and got records showing all print jobs between 11:02 am on May 10 and 10:19 am on May 14. (According to the council’s public disclosure officer, the printer does not store print records long-term.) Sawant’s “Tax Amazon” rally was on Saturday, May 12.

The documents show that Sawant’s office—specifically, her legislative assistants Ted Virdone and Adam Ziemkowski—printed several thousand posters and other documents related to the rally, including hundreds of chant sheets to guide rally participants during the “March on Amazon.” The printing jobs dwarf other council office’s print requests; moreover, the council offices that did relatively large print jobs during the time when Sawant’s office was using the city printer to produce her rally posters were printing presentations, copies of studies, and agendas for council meetings—not posters for weekend demonstrations against Amazon aimed at pressuring council members to adopt a larger tax.

Between around 2:00 in the afternoon on May 10 and 4:00 in the afternoon on May 11, the day before the rally, Sawant’s office printed:

  • 1,004 copies of a document called “March On Amazon.doc.”
  • 50 copies of a document called “fight bezos bullying.pdf”
  • 75 copies of a document called “tax amazon, no loopholes, no sunset.pdf”
  • 50 copies of a document called “tax amazon – fund housing and services.pdf”
  • 50 copies of a document called “tax amazon, 75 million, no extortion2.pdf”
  • 50 copies of a document called “150m EHT.pdf” (Sawant was pushing for a head tax, or Employee Hours Tax, that would raise $150 million a year)
  • 50 copies of a document called “tax amazon, no bezos durkan deal.pdf”
  • 400 copies of a document called “Tax Amazon chantsheet2.doc”
  • 2,198 copies of a document called “may 11 (two sided).pdf.

It’s unclear, given the limited period of time the records cover, whether Sawant’s office printed other posters and rally-related before 11am on May 10, the earliest time for which printer records are available. It’s unclear from the records which documents were large 11-by-17 posters and which were in full color. However, demonstrators at last Monday’s council meetings on the head tax held signs bearing the same slogans as those in the file names Sawant’s office printed out the previous Friday, and Sawant herself defended her use of the city’s official printer to produce anti-Amazon materials, telling Bagshaw, “You can choose not to use your office for really fighting for the interests of working people and to build movements. I strongly believe that council resources absolutely should be used to further social movements and not for the protection of the interests of the chamber of commerce.”

Overall, Sawant’s office printed out more than 4,000 copies in the approximately 24 hours between the afternoon of May 10 and the afternoon of May 11. (After the rally, their printing needs returned to a normal level—about 40 pages between May 12 and May 14).  No other office came close. Council member Rob Johnson’s office was in second place, with just over 600 copies in the same period (none of them posters), but that was skewed by a single 465-page printout—copies of a PowerPoint presentation on the Families and Education Levy for council members.

Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission director Wayne Barnett told me that he considered Sawant’s use of the city’s printer to produce her rally signs acceptable under city ethics rules, because she was using the posters “to pass legislation.”

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14 thoughts on “Sawant’s City Printer Usage: 26 Hours, One “Tax Amazon” Rally, 4,000 Copies”

  1. Insightful.

    Also see: Tacoma Council proposes- A $275 tax credit per employee for new, family-wage jobs.

  2. I don’t care about her using the city’s copier, but I do care that one of our city council members is protesting the city’s largest employer. That’s a really unnecessarily divisive thing to do.

    My suspicion is that the threat Amazon made about canceling 7000 jobs had more to do with that than the actual head tax. The head tax is a fraction of a percent of an Amazon employees overall compensation package ~100k+ in salary + bonus + stock + healthcare. However, it seemed to become symbolic of the resentment that some people had been stoking against Amazon.

    In reality, Seattle is one of the lowest tax environments in the country for highly paid tech workers due to our lack of income tax and lack of capital gains tax. Amazon should know this well after doing a search for HQ2.

    1. In reality, no. The combined tax burden in Washington state put’s it squarely in the middle of the pack. But that tax burden doesn’t take into account our exorbitant gas taxes, marijuana taxes, etc. Nor does it include road usage taxes — all the tolls. And with those taxes come one of the highest cost of livings in the nation. Did the sudden rise of tech workers contribute to that, of course, but it is also a direct result of the cost to build in Seattle and the mountain of paperwork to start major projects such as an apartment complex. And realistically, who wants to own an apartment complex in Seattle where you can’t ask about a person’s criminal history. So no, there is no great benefit for a business to relocate here.
      On the flip side. You have a city that is known more for homelessness and heroin than being business friendly. You have tents and needles everywhere. You have children getting stuck with dirty syringes in the park. Possession of a controlled substance is basically legal as long as it’s under 2 grams. People don’t want to raise families around that.
      But most of all, companies like Amazon don’t want to see their brand treated like dirt by ungrateful city officials. They don’t want to see their logo connected to homeless camps, murders, drugs, etc. They especially don’t want to see it, when they have given billions to help combat homelessness — doing it far more effectively than the city could even fathom. Outside of the West Coast, you aren’t going to see that type of hatred towards the leading employer of the region. Most places Sawant would be a bad joke, garnering a couple hundred votes, but never getting elected. She is sadly accepted in Freattle.

  3. She’s a politician. Her job is to do politics. She printed flyers to help further policy goals. I really don’t see anything unseemly here.

  4. I don’t owe a penny and I didn’t major in journalism, but thanks for your concern!

  5. Wow. (jaw drops). Thank you ‘Crank’ for the insight.

    I’ll admit that I had brushed off the copy machine thing as a probable red herring – perhaps debatable judgement – but sure, run a handful of signs for your staff and their friends – no big deal right? But thousands of copies? (possibly color, 11×17? some double-sided?) We’re actually starting to talk about real $$$ and city resources that could be directed elsewhere. (says the suddenly not so pleased citizen)

    to me what was weird about several of those days @ Council Chambers was that she kept referring about “The Movement” (proper noun?) rather than the legislation being directly discussed. could that set CM. Sawant up for some kind of campaign violation w/using city resources?

    more importantly – I would love to see similar insights into other members of the Council and how their discretionary staff budgets are being used. So the Ricoh copier salesperson is apparently quite happy with CM Sawant’s operations…. so what other vendors and/or consultants (aka: strategic advisers?) benefit from warm relationships with their favourite CMs? 😉

    Thank you for your coverage.

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