Tag: campaign finance

Mega Campaign Fizz: Compassion Seattle, Mayoral Money News, González Polls on Homelessness, and Much More!

1. Compassion Seattle, the group backing an initiative that would require the city to divert funds from other purposes to pay for 2,000 shelter beds in order to “clear” parks for housed people to use, announced Thursday that it had collected 64,155 signatures—about twice as many as the number of valid signatures the campaign needs to get the measure on the November ballot.

Even in victory, the campaign claimed to be the victim of “harassment, theft of petitions, assault and significant time delays”—claims it has made in multiple emails to supporters. The campaign did not immediately respond to questions about the incidents, including a request for case numbers in the event that they reported any of the alleged crimes to Seattle police.

UPDATE: In response to PubliCola’s questions, Compassion Seattle provided a list of eight incidents involving signature gatherers. Six involved people ripping clipboards out of people’s hands or destroying signature sheets. The remaining two examples were more dramatic; in one case, someone threw a garbage can at the signature gatherer, and in the other, a woman was “harassed and pushed down” on Capitol Hill.

2. Mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston received permission from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission on Thursday to raise money beyond the legal maximum under Seattle’s democracy voucher program, which limits mayoral campaign fundraising to $400,000 in the primary election. Houston argued (and the commission agreed) that mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell has already exceeded the cap through his own fundraising and that of a political action committee organized on his behalf.

Under city election law, any candidate who has maxed out on campaign spending or fundraising, unless the excess is “minor” or “inadvertent,” can seek a release from the cap as soon as another campaign, or the combination of a campaign and an independent expenditure (IE) campaign acting on the candidate’s behalf, has busted through the cap.

Because IE campaigns can raise and spend unlimited dollars from any source, IE fundraising routinely provides leads to a campaign fundraising free-for-all. Houston’s release from the cap will trigger other candidates who have reached the fundraising limit to seek similar permission to raise and spend more money, effectively neutralizing rules adopted by initiative in 2015 aimed at limiting the impact of money on elections. The initiative, known as Honest Elections, created the voucher program, which gives $100 to every Seattle registered voter to spend on the candidate or candidates of their choice; it also imposed a number of campaign-finance rules, including new contribution and spending limits.

During the 2019 election, the campaigns for city council candidates Jon Grant and Teresa Mosqueda, including a pro-Mosqueda PAC, raised and spent more than $1 million despite a total “campaign valuation” (fundraising) limit of $300,000. Similarly, spending on behalf of successful mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan totaled well over $2 million, despite a formal cap of $800,000.

Ultimately, the only thing that will stem out-of-control spending is a court ruling overturning or limiting the impact of Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that effectively barred limits on campaign spending by corporations and interest groups. Limiting spending by candidates but not committees, commission chair Richard Shordt pointed out Thursday, would limit the “voices” of “the thousands of Seattleites who are using their democracy vouchers” to support campaigns.

3. An online poll—apparently conducted on behalf of mayoral candidate Lorena González’s campaign—tested messages for and against the candidate in a hypothetical election between González and her former council colleague Bruce Harrell, who is currently the presumptive frontrunner.

The poll, which focuses on homelessness, describes González as a former civil rights attorney who was inspired to run “after watching Jenny Durkan give big corporations too much say in city government, side with the police union when cops tear-gassed Seattleites, and let the homelessness crises get worse”; it describes Harrell, more generically, as a former council president who “has the experience and skills to unite our city.” Continue reading “Mega Campaign Fizz: Compassion Seattle, Mayoral Money News, González Polls on Homelessness, and Much More!”

Seattle’s New Campaign Finance Legislation, Explained

This story originally appeared in the South Seattle Emerald.

Seattle’s city council recently passed two significant new pieces of campaign finance legislation aimed at reducing the influence of big corporations like Amazon in local elections, with a third bill still ongoing revisions. The first bill bans contributions from “foreign-influenced” corporations; the second creates new disclosure requirements for political ads, and the third—which sponsor Lorena Gonzalez has said she will bring back once she returns from maternity leave this spring—would limit contributions to political groups to $5,000.

If you’re wondering what this means for future elections, you’re not alone. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions about the Clean Campaigns Act—starting with the big one.

Does this mean Amazon will be banned from throwing millions of dollars at the next election? 

Amazon, which helped quash efforts to tax large corporations to fund homeless services in 2018, gave nearly $1.5 million to Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, a political action committee (PAC) run by the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, last year. The contribution, which made up 60 percent of CASE’s 2019 funding, paid for ads, mail campaigns, and direct outreach to voters on behalf of “pro-business” candidates in all seven council races.

The package of legislation could limit the influence of Amazon and other big companies in two crucial ways. First, the legislation passed this month bars contributions from “foreign-influenced” companies—defined as companies of which a single foreign owner controls more than 1 percent, or where a group of foreign owners control more than 5 percent. This, as Kevin Schofield has reported at SCC Insight, would bar contributions from Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb, among others.

The second piece of legislation—the one the council hasn’t passed—would limit contributions to independent expenditure groups to $5,000, while allowing groups with a large number of small (under $100) donations to give up to $10,000 to PACs. If the contribution limit had been in place last year, Amazon wouldn’t have been the only company affected: The Chamber PAC alone received $2.24 million in contributions above the proposed new limit, an amount that dwarfs the $183,000 they received in contributions of $5,000 or less.

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Why is the council going after foreign ownership? Seems a little… Specific.

Supporters of the legislation have argued that because federal law bans direct contributions by foreign nationals, a ban on giving by “foreign-influenced” contributions closes a loophole that allows citizens of other countries to influence elections by investing in US companies, which are allowed to spend money on political campaigns.

But the real issue at play is that the infamous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which gave corporations nearly infinite power to spend money to influence elections, leaves few avenues for governments to place limits on corporate spending. One such avenue is the ban on direct foreign contributions, which the Court has upheld. So the gamble here is that if the legislation is challenged up to the Supreme Court level, the Court will be more sympathetic to arguments about foreign influence than it would be to arguments for limiting corporate spending in general. Continue reading “Seattle’s New Campaign Finance Legislation, Explained”

Council May Push to Regulate PACs, Which Spent As Much As $18 Per Vote in August Primary

Big spenders: Moms for Seattle’s pro-Murakami push cost $7 per vote.

1. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission expressed skepticism yesterday about a long-shot effort by council member and state attorney general candidate Lorena Gonzalez to stem the influence of political action committees on local elections by imposing new contribution limits and disclosure requirements on such groups. Commissioners said they supported the idea of limiting corporate campaign contributions as a policy, but questioned whether it was a good idea for the city to pass a law that would be subject to immediate legal challenge.

“I support the legislation, but I am also incredibly pragmatic [and] I’m not sure I support Seattle paying for this lawsuit,’” SEEC commissioner Eileen Norton said.

Gonzalez’ legislation would prohibit companies with foreign ownership (such as Uber) from contributing to independent expenditure campaigns; cap contributions to PACs at $5,000; and require PACs to maintain detailed, publicly available records about their contributors and how they spent their money. Currently, there are no caps on how much a person, company, or organization can contribute to a PAC, and no requirement that PACs detail where their money is going.

The proponents’ legal theory rests on the hope that the Supreme Court, or an en banc panel of the entire federal Ninth Circuit District Court, will overturn previous rulings (by a D.C. circuit court and a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit, respectively) concluding that local governments do not have the authority to regulate PAC contributions. In the Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court struck down restrictions on corporate spending on the grounds that corporations have the same rights to free “speech” as individual citizens.

“I’m not a betting woman, but I think I would be willing to bet my mortgage on [a lawsuit].”—Seattle Ethics and Election commissioner Eileen Norton.

Predictably, corporate spending ballooned across the nation, including in local races like Seattle’s mayoral and council elections. PAC spending on this year’s seven city council races has already outpaced total independent spending in the 2015 election, when all nine council seats were up for grabs; in every case, the candidate supported by corporate or (in one case) labor spending made it through to the general election.

The contribution limit would be the most significant shift, and the one most open to legal challenge. This year, for example Amazon contributed $250,000 to the Seattle Metro Chamber’s PAC, while Bellevue charter-school proponent Katherine Binder poured $25,000 into Moms for Seattle, a group that targeted liberal incumbents with Photoshopped images of playgrounds taken over by homeless encampments, graffiti, and trash. And UNITE HERE Local 8, a New York City-based union, spent $150,000 on TV ads promoting Andrew Lewis in District 7.

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John Bonifaz, an attorney with the group Free Speech for People who helped draft the legislation, said yesterday that Long Beach, FL is the only other US city that has passed similar regulations. So far, that law has not been subject to legal challenge. In Seattle, there is little doubt that someone will sue to stop Gonzalez’ proposal from taking effect. “I’m not a betting woman, but I think I would be willing to bet my mortgage on that one,” Norton, the SEEC commissioner, said.

2. Speaking of unfettered campaign spending, here’s a quick-and-dirty look at how much this year’s three most active (and largest) campaign PACs—Moms for Seattle, People for Seattle, and the Chamber’s Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy—spent promoting their candidates (or tearing down their opponents) on a dollars-per-vote basis. These numbers are rough (and probably a little on the low side) because these PACs chose not to itemize many of their expenditures, and because more expenditures will show up on future reports as the campaigns pay off rolling debts. (In lieu of an exact breakdown, I’ve divided the total amount of non-itemized expenditures by these groups and added it to their itemized expenditures on specific candidates, except in the case of Moms, whose record-keeping is almost completely opaque.) Despite those caveats, the numbers are a way of measuring how much these groups are willing to spend to influence your vote. Continue reading “Council May Push to Regulate PACs, Which Spent As Much As $18 Per Vote in August Primary”

Election Crank: But Wait—It Gets Even MORE Confusing

Some campaign updates as the August 6 primary (and the narrowing of the Seattle City Council elections from dozens of candidates to just 14) approaches…

1. As I reported on Twitter last weekend, the political action committee for the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, just spent more than $307,000 on mail, canvassing, literature, and direct mail for its endorsed candidates in all seven city council races.

But the bulk of the money—$260,350—went to three candidates: Lisa Herbold challenger Phillip Tavel, who ran for the same position in 2015 and didn’t make it through the primary ($77,750); former Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce leader Egan Orion, who’s challenging Kshama Sawant ($107,400); and Seattle Police Department  crime prevention coordinator Mark Solomon, who’s running for the seat being vacated by Bruce Harrell, where community organizer Tammy Morales is the presumed frontrunner ($75,200).

Next week, Jay Fathi (D6) and Michael George (D7) will ask to be released from the $75,000 spending cap on the grounds that the Seattle Chamber is spending money on behalf of one of their competitors—Wills in Fathi’s case, and Pugel in George’s. Of course, CASE is also spending money on behalf of Fathi and George in those races, so both are essentially arguing that they should be released from the spending cap because of spending by their own political benefactors.

2. Candidates for districted city council seats who participate in the democracy voucher program are theoretically limited to raising and spending a maximum of $75,000 in the primary election (and another $75,000 in the general), but that isn’t how it’s working out in practice. As of this writing, at least 16 candidates running for the seven districted council seats have asked to have their spending caps, or the caps on both spending and contributions, lifted because their opponents have either raised more than $75,000 or have had more than $75,000 spent on their behalf. (SEEC director Wayne Barnett provided a list of candidates who’ve been released from the caps).
Under the somewhat byzantine rules of the city’s new system, candidates in this year’s council elections who accept public funding through democracy vouchers (coupons worth $100 that are given to every Seattle voter to spend on the candidate or candidates of their choice) can’t spend more than $75,000 unless one of two things happens: a) another candidate in the race who isn’t participating in the voucher system, and therefore isn’t subject to spending limits, spends more than $75,000, or b) a political action committee spends enough on behalf of a candidate that the total expenditures on that candidate’s behalf top $75,000. In the former situation (when, say, Kshama Sawant outspends all of her opponents and isn’t subject to democracy voucher caps), candidates can ask to have both the spending limit and the $250 cap on individual contributions lifted. (The contribution limit for non-voucher candidates is $500). In the latter situatiom (when, say, the Seattle Metro’s PAC spends $77,000 to defeat incumbent Lisa Herbold, but no candidate in the race has spent more than $75,000 on their own), the candidates can only be released from spending, but not contribution, limits.
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The candidates who have been given approval to spend more than $75,000 are: Lisa Herbold in District 1 (because of CASE spending on Phil Tavel’s behalf); Tammy Morales, Phyllis Porter, Christopher Peguero, and Mark Solomon in District 2 (because Ari Hoffman has raised more than $75,000, they are also released from contribution caps—including Solomon, who is also benefiting from the Chamber’s largesse); Ami Nguyen, Logan Bowers, Pat Murakami, Zach DeWolf, and Egan Orion in District 3 (because Kshama Sawant has raised more than $75,000, all the other candidates are also released from contribution caps; Orion, like Solomon, is getting help from the Chamber as well); Emily Myers and Shaun Scott in District 4 (because of CASE spending on Alex Pedersen’s behalf); no one (!) in District 5 (as of July 2, incumbent Debora Juarez had raised just $43,000); Dan Strauss, Kate Martin, and Sergio Garcia in District 6 (because of CASE spending on Jay Fathi and Heidi Wills’ behalf); and Andrew Lewis in District 7 (because of CASE spending on behalf of Jim Pugel and Michael George.)
But wait: It gets even more confusing. Next Tuesday, July 8, Fathi (D6) and George (D7) will both appear in front of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to ask to be released from the $75,000 spending cap on the grounds that CASE is spending money on behalf of one of their competitors—Wills in Fathi’s case, and Pugel in George’s. Of course, CASE is also spending money on behalf of Fathi and George in those races, so both are essentially arguing that they should be released from the spending cap because of spending by their own political benefactors.
This will look even weirder if, as seems likely, CASE puts out literature suggesting that voters pick either George or Pugel, and either Wills or Fathi, in those races—a scenario that will benefit all four candidates, not just Wills and Pugel. Not only that: George, Fathi, and CASE all share a financial compliance firm, Blue Wave Politics, which means that the same company is behind the campaigns benefiting from CASE spending, the campaigns asking to be allowed to spend more money because of CASE spending, and CASE itself. Pretty sure that this wasn’t exactly what the backers of democracy vouchers had in mind when they said the system would help get money out of politics.

Not only that: George, Fathi, and CASE all share a financial compliance firm, which means that the same company is behind the campaigns benefiting from CASE spending, the campaigns asking to be allowed to spend more money because of CASE spending, and CASE itself.

3. Speak Out Seattle, a group of self-described “concerned citizens” that held a series of controversial campaign forums earlier this year, has released its own list of endorsements—a roster that could have been lifted straight from the Facebook page of Safe Seattle, an online group that promotes conspiracy theories, false allegations, and harmful “solutions” for Seattle’s homelessness crisis. The candidates SOS has endorsed, in order of district, are: Ex-cop Brendan Kolding (District 1); both Solomon and conservative business owner Ari Hoffman (District 2); Mount Baker neighborhood activist Pat Murakami (District 3); Pedersen (District 4); attorney Ann Davison Sattler (District 5); Wills; and George. Safe Seattle, which is separate from SOS but has expressed many of the same views about homelessness, housing, and addiction, has frequently promoted Davison Sattler and Hoffman on their Facebook page.

When I entered the furthest-left positions on AlignVote’s questions about homelessness, “safe injection,” and housing in District 2, it suggested I vote for stunt candidate Omari Tahir-Garrett.

4. Davison Sattler created quite a stir at a recent candidate forum in District 5, which I was moderating, when she responded to a question about reducing emissions by calling climate change a “luxury item” compared to immediate problems like “keeping our city clean.”
Over shouts of disbelief from some audience members, Davison Sattler continued: “If we cannot even keep our city clean, I feel like we are in no place to be talking about issues like this. This is absurd that we are talking about this, yet we cannot keep our city clean. … We have to be taking care of things that are clearly on everyone’s minds, which is the state of our streets.”
During the same debate, Davison Sattler said she supported a “FEMA-style response” to homelessness; suggested putting a new North Seattle community center inside a new police precinct across the street from North Seattle Community College, where the event was being held; and said that some businesses near a now-dismantled authorized encampment at Licton Springs “could not even keep their employees for more than a few hours” because they had to wade through human feces, litter, and needles near the encampments.
No word yet on how candidates and activists who talk about the presence of “human feces” all over the city’s sidewalks can distinguish human from dog feces in a city where housed dogs outnumber unsheltered humans by about 45 to 1.

D5 candidate Ann Davison Sattler created a stir when she responded to a question about reducing emissions by calling climate change a “luxury item” compared to immediate problems like “keeping our city clean.”

5. SOS leader Steve Murch has created a voter guide called AlignVote, which (like SOS) purports to be a “nonpartisan” and unbiased guide to the candidates’ positions. In reality, the tool functions as a push poll for SOS’s positions on supervised consumption sites, rent control, and other issues—characterizing rent control, for example, as a policy that imposes “further restrictions on what prices landlords can charge.” (Another question, about police accountability, prevented these two possible responses as a binary choice: “The Seattle Police Department has major work to still do to restore more fairness and equity” and “The City Council needs to be more supportive of our police.”) When I entered the furthest-left positions on AlignVote’s questions about homelessness, “safe injection,” and housing in District 2, it suggested I vote for stunt candidate Omari Tahir-Garrett.

Council Campaign Fundraising: Who’s Raking It In and Who’s Lagging Behind

We’re about two months away from the May 15 filing deadline for city council elections, the point when no more candidates can add their names to the 52 (as of this posting) who have put their names in contention. Will the number grow to 70, for an average of 10 candidates per council race on the ballot? Will any of these candidates raise any money, or are the top two in most races already a foregone conclusion? How much money will be spent in this election, the first election under the new district system in which none of the candidates are holdovers from the pre-district system?

Those questions are obviously speculative, but a look at the money—who’s raising it, who’s spending it, and who’s benefiting—can provide some clues. Here are a few observations from the first month in which candidates have ramped up (or, in some cases, slacked off) on raising and spending on their campaigns.

A quick note about campaign fundraising figures: Cash on hand numbers are approximate, because campaigns only disclose expenditures at the end of the month. I haven’t provided cash on hand numbers for every candidate, because those numbers are less relevant now than they will be further along in the campaign, when candidates need money to drum up votes and every dollar really counts. Because many candidates choose to report contributions as they come in—a practice that becomes mandatory in the final days of the campaign—contributions are often more up to date than expenditures. When a candidate has not reported any contributions after their most recent monthly filing, I will note “as of February 28” to make that clear.

Democracy vouchers are a form of public campaign financing the city of Seattle first started using in 2017. To qualify, candidates must get at least 150 signatures and 150 donations of $10 or more from Seattle residents. Every Seattle resident received four vouchers worth $25 each, which they can contribute to any qualifying candidate. Candidates who accept democracy vouchers are subject to campaign contribution and spending limits, including an individual contribution cap of $250. Candidates who don’t participate aren’t subject to those limits, and can take contributions up to $500.

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In District 1 (West Seattle), incumbent Lisa Herbold has raised the most from actual contributors, with $13,014 in contributions and about $11,996 on hand. Phillip Tavel, an attorney who got 18 percent of the vote in his run for the same seat in 2015, reported more contributions as of February 28—$17,571—but $10,590 of that was Tavel’s own money. Meanwhile, Tavel has spent $16,565. Once other debts are factored in, Tavel has a negative balance of $9,599.

Some of Tavel’s expenses, interestingly, came in the form of refunds to supporters who gave $500—the maximum contribution for candidates who aren’t accepting democracy vouchers. Tavel’s largest contribution is now $250, indicating that he now hopes to take advantage of the public financing program. As of February 28, he had 61 contributors from Seattle—89 shy of the 150 Seattle voters whose signatures and contributions he will need to qualify.

The other District 1 candidates haven’t made much of a play so far; one, SPD lieutenant and two-time state house candidate Brendan Kolding, has seemingly done nothing except loan himself money and pay it back. He has contributions from 33 Seattle residents, plus four out-of-towners with the last name Kolding.

In District 2, Ari Hoffman—the Safe Seattle-backed candidate who was in the news, most recently, for promoting an unfounded conspiracy theory about a beheading-by-saw in a homeless encampment near the Mount Baker light rail station—leads the pack in fundraising with $20,280, in part because he is not seeking democracy vouchers and can accept $500 contributions. (His latest contribution list includes two dozen such donations). Hoffman shares a campaign manager named Veronica Garcia with Ann Sattler, who is running against incumbent Debora Juarez in District 5. He has spent about $350 on Facebook ads so far.

Tammy Morales—who made it through the primary for the same seat in 2015 and narrowly lost to council incumbent Bruce Harrell—has brought in $17,699 in contributions so far, a number that will likely grow quickly (in 2015, running against an incumbent, she raised nearly $75,000). As of the end of February, Morales had a negative balance of $2,609; $3,075 in new contributions reported on March 13 should just push her into the black.

Christopher Peguero, a Seattle City Light employee and community advocate, has raised just $6,435 so far—$3,544 of that from Peguero himself—but is making decent progress toward qualifying for vouchers, with 118 contributors. South Seattle bike advocate Phyllis Porter has raised $2,618, but had already spent $12,212 as of February 28—most of that on consultants CD Strategic ($7,857) and Blue Wave Political Partners ($4,366), putting her $10,285 in the hole. Mark Solomon, SPD’s crime prevention coordinator for south and southwest Seattle, has raised $4,307. The majority of that money (53%) comes from outside city limits, but it also includes a large number of small, democracy voucher-level contributions of $10 or $20; so far, Solomon has 45 contributions toward the 150 required to qualify.

The race for District 3 presents an interesting financial picture because the incumbent, Kshama Sawant, is not taking democracy vouchers (she says she needs to be able to raise as much as possible in anticipation of “big-business” groups spending up to a million dollars to defeat her.) Partly as a result, Sawant is blowing her opponents away in fundraising, with $50,948 in contributions so far, including a Bernie-approved $27 donation to herself. So far, the overwhelming majority (84 percent) of Sawant’s contributions come from outside her district, with half her contributions coming from outside the city of Seattle itself. More than half of Sawant’s donations are maxed-out $500 contributions.

So far, the onslaught of corporate-backed candidates Sawant predicted has not materialized. King County public defender Ami Nguyen has raised about $11,398, mostly (72%) from out of town. Sawant’s closest competitor, Hashtag Cannabis owner Logan Bowers, has raised $30,572 so far, including $5,800 in democracy vouchers. A quarter of that money comes from inside District 3 (for incumbent Sawant, that number is 16%.) Bowers has spent a fair amount—about $1,300—to access the Washington State Democrats’ donor database.

Nine candidates are running in District 4, which incumbent Rob Johnson is abdicating after a single term, so I’ll limit my fundraising-related comments to the handful with significant contributions. (Obviously, it’s early days, so any of the candidates I don’t mention here, like Abel Pacheco and Cathy Tuttle, could have a fundraising surge later on.) First on that list is Alex Pedersen, a former aide to ex-council member Tim Burgess who expressed some potentially incendiary views about transit and homelessness on his since-deleted neighborhood newsletter. Pedersen has raised $44,954 so far, including $12,050 from democracy vouchers—a number that goes down to $26,518 once $18,436 of Pedersen’s own money is excluded. Pedersen’s contributors include 2015 District 4 candidate Tony Provine (creator of the infamous “bulldozers are coming” campaign mailer), Fremont property magnate and anti-bike-lane activist Suzie Burke; and well-known anti-density activists Toby Thaler, Bill Bradburd, and Susanna Lin (Lin and Thaler are on the board of Seattle Fair Growth, a group that helped sue to stop the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan the city council is finally adopting on Monday).

Emily Myers, a Ph. D candidate at the University of Washington, has raised $8,028 so far, including several hundred in $27 contributions (and 86% of it from outside her district). Shaun Scott, who is running as a member of the Democratic Socialists, has raised $14,884, including about 60 $27 contributions. No District 4 candidate other than Pedersen has qualified for democracy vouchers so far, although Scott appears to have enough qualifying contributions (the city’s democracy website does not indicate how many signatures a candidate is gathered until he or she turns them in). Nineteen-year-old college student Ethan Hunter, the subject of several fluffy media profiles when he announced he was running earlier this year, has reported no campaign activity since December 12.

District 5 incumbent Debora Juarez rarely lets a turn at the mic go by without mentioning her North Seattle district, and her relentless advocacy for her district has paid off in the form of a fairly frictionless campaign so far. Her opponents include two perennial candidates, plus Thornton Creek Alliance activist John Lombard, and attorney and former Seattle Supersonics employee Ann Sattler, who appears to be running on a law-and-order platform and is not seeking democracy vouchers. Sattler has raised $9,237,  a number that includes $4,137 of her own money. (Most of the remaining $5,000 is from $500 contributions). Juarez, meanwhile, has raised $10,500 and has registered, but not yet qualified for, democracy  vouchers.

District 6, the seat being vacated by 10-year incumbent Mike O’Brien, is the most crowded council race so far, with a dozen candidates competing to represent Northwest Seattle. It’s safe to say, though, that most of those candidates aren’t viable, and that one, former council member Heidi Wills, is already a likely frontrunner based on name recognition alone, even though she hasn’t raised much money (just $1,370, for a negative balance of $2,285 after the cost of building her website is factored in) since declaring her candidacy earlier this month. Jay Fathi, a Fremont doctor who hired local campaign veteran Christian Sinderman as his campaign consultant, is seeking to qualify for vouchers (he has 102 qualifying contributions so far), and is in the red, or just above it, despite $15,695 in contributions because he owes $12,769 to Sinderman’s firm.

Two other candidates raising money in District 6 are Jon Lisbin, who received 13% in his 2015 candidate for the same position (he’s raised $13,036, including $6,010 in contributions from himself), Dan Strauss, a legislative aide to District 7 incumbent Sally Bagshaw ($11,133), and Kate Martin, who previously ran for school board and mayor and was behind an unsuccessful campaign to preserve a section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct as part of an elevated waterfront park ($6,175).

District 7 incumbent Sally Bagshaw is the fourth council incumbent to announce her retirement this year, and eight candidates have lined up so far to seek her old job. So far, the clear frontrunner appears to be former interim police chief Jim Pugel, who has started racking up progressive endorsements and has raised nearly twice as much as his two leading competitors, with $35,796 in contributions (about a third of them, interestingly, from people who list “not employed” as their employment status, which usually indicates someone is retired). Pugel also appears to be using Sinderman’s firm, Northwest Passage, as his primary consultant. Andrew Lewis, the onetime campaign manager for former council member Nick Licata, has raised $19,155, which includes contributions from several former local, county, and state elected officials (Peter Steinbrueck, Martha Choe, Larry Phillips). Kidder Matthews development consultant Michael George has raised $18,325, largely from people in the development and building industry (and 51% from outside city limits). Naveed Jamali and Jason Williams also have relatively active campaigns; I’ll report more on their fundraising if it picks up significantly. So far, only Lewis has qualified for democracy vouchers (and has received $2,950 in voucher form); George and Williams are both seeking to qualify, and Jamali is not participating.

For up-to-date election information, check out the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission’s campaign website. For current information on democracy vouchers, go to the city’s Democracy Voucher page.

Sawant, Predicting $1 Million in PAC Spending Against Her, Won’t Participate in Democracy Voucher Program

At her reelection kickoff rally/press conference at Saba Ethiopian Restaurant in the Central District Thursday morning, District 3 city council incumbent Kshama Sawant said she will not participate in the city’s “democracy voucher” program, because its spending limits would make it impossible for her to compete against “corporate [political action committees] and Republican and Democratic establishment people” who want her out of office. Sawant has been in office for six years, including one full four-year term as the council member for District 3, which includes a swath of east-central Seattle between Montlake and the Central District, along with part of Beacon Hill.

“We’re going to have, definitely, more than half a million, probably a million [dollars] thrown at this race to try and defeat us,” Sawant predicted. “As long as corporate PACs and big business lobbyists and big developers don’t have a spending cap, working people need dollars to fuel their campaign, and we do that unapologetically.” Last time she ran, Sawant outspent her challenger, Pam Banks, by nearly $100,000; independent expenditures for Banks totaled about $40,000, while IEs for Sawant or against Banks came to about $27,000.

Democracy vouchers, adopted by voters as part of a package of election reforms in 2015, are supposed to serve two purposes: To level the playing field so that people don’t have to be rich or well-connected to run for office; and to give ordinary people a financial stake in local elections, by providing every Seattle voter with $100 to spend on the candidate or candidates of their choice. In 2017, when two council seats were on the ballot, five council candidates participated in the program, spending a total of almost $1 million. Two of those candidates, Jon Grant and Teresa Mosqueda (who was elected to council Position 8) repeatedly (and successfully) petitioned the city to raise the cap on contributions from $250 to $500. The city also released both candidates from the $300,000 total spending cap, making the first election under the new system one of the most expensive—at $818,000 between the two candidates—in recent Seattle history.

Candidates running for district seats face lower spending limits—$150,000 for the primary and the general combined—and the same $250 contribution limit. By opting out of the program, Sawant will be able to accept contributions of up to $500 and will face no total cap on spending.

Sawant’s claim that business PACs and “CEOs” will amass a million dollars to defeat her is impossible to prove until it happens, and recent history doesn’t provide an exact comparison. The last district elections, in 2015, occurred before the current spending limits and the advent of democracy vouchers, and the only election with democracy vouchers so far included only citywide candidates. But it’s noteworthy that in 2015, Sawant, as an incumbent, outspent all other candidates in her own and every other district—including candidates who actually were targeted by PACs that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, like District 1 council member Lisa Herbold. The big PAC money that year was for Herbold opponent Shannon Braddock ($229,000),Position 9 candidate (and pre-districts council incumbent) Tim Burgess ($219,000), and District 4 victor Rob Johnson ($80,000)—not for or against Sawant. Two years later, both business and labor PACs maxed out at roughly similar levels. So there’s no precedent for the kind of PAC spending Sawant is predicting in any local council race—including her own most recent reelection bid.


Although Squirrel Chops owner and Socialist Alternative party member Shirley Henderson—who hosted a rare in-district meet-and-greet with Sawant at her salon/coffee shop in the new Central apartment building at 23rd and Union last year—praised Sawant’s “accessibility” on Thursday, the council member has been criticized for focusing on issues outside her district and being unresponsive to constituents outside her political circle. Sawant characterized claims that she is unresponsive to people in her district as farcical. “I think there are going to be countless people in the district who would not only disagree with that assessment but who would find that patently untrue and, quite honestly, absurd,” she said. “If you look at just the day-to-day work that we do— first of all, we get dozens of phone calls every day, emails, and other forms of communication. People come in personally. People talk to me in grocery stores, coffee shops, just walking along the street, and we hear about their day-to-day situations related to parks or crosswalks or potholes or any other situation. … We work tirelessly to help address those issues.” (Anecdotally, as a reporter and a resident of District 3, I have heard complaints from Sawant’s constituents that her office is unresponsive to emails and requests for meetings; I have also seen emails to Sawant’s office complaining about her focus on issues specific to other parts of the city, like the “Save the Showbox” campaign.)

But, she added, the “overarching” issues in the district are the same ones that impact the entire city—”the lack of affordable housing [and] the fact that the entire character of our district and of our city is transforming, where ordinary working people and their families … are getting pushed out of the city because the rents have skyrocketed and the city is becoming a playground for the wealthy and corporate developers.” Say what you will about Sawant, but she’s always on brand.

Afternoon Crank: Public Land Sale Materials Tout Restrictive Zoning, Barriers to Homeownership; Details on Bike Lane Mediator’s Campaign Contributions

1.The official request for proposals for developers interesting in buying the so-called Mercer Megablock—three sites that total three acres in the heart of South Lake Union—includes some revealing details about how the city is pitching itself (via JLL, its broker) to potential property buyers. Alongside standard marketing language about the city’s booming economy, growing tech base, and wealth of cultural and natural assets, the Megablock marketing materials tout the fact that Seattle has restrictive zoning and “high barriers to entry for homeownership,” along with some of the highest and fastest-rising rents in the nation, as positive assets that make the city a great place to build.

From the RFP:

This area is also one of the most dynamic real estate investment markets in the country, benefiting from a combination of strict land use planning, topographical constraints on supply, and employment growth that consistently ranks above the national average. Favorable “renter” demographics, positive job numbers, strong population projections and a low unemployment rate, together with high barriers for entry in home ownership, also position the region as a strategic market for multifamily investment gains.


What, exactly, constitutes “a strategic market for multifamily investment gains”? A pull quote in the RFP puts a finer point on it: “Housing prices have grown at the fastest rate in the country for the past 17-consecutive months. The 12.9% year-over-year growth is more than double the national growth rate. Multifamily rents increased by 3.1% year-over-year and vacancy is just 4.2%. ”

Obviously, when you put artificial constraints on housing supply (such as zoning laws that make multifamily housing illegal in most parts of a city), housing prices increase. Usually, we think of that as a bad thing, because it means that all but the wealthiest renters (and those who can afford to buy $800,000 houses) get priced out of neighborhoods near employment centers, transit, and other amenities. But the city’s marketing materials turn this idea on its head: Restrictive zoning, “high barriers” to homeownership, and spiraling rents make Seattle the perfect place to buy one of the city’s last large parcels of public land—a parcel which, if housing advocates had their way, would be used for affordable housing that might help address some of those very issues.


2. After I reported yesterday on the city’s decision to hire a mediator with the Cedar River Group to facilitate a series of conversations  with groups that support and oppose a long-planned bike lane on 35th Ave. NE, architect/intrepid YIMBY Mike Eliason dug through the city’s elections website and discovered that the mediator, John Howell, has given money to both Mayor Jenny Durkan (who directed SDOT to initiate the mediation) and onetime city council candidate Jordan Royer (who, along with attorney Gabe Galanda, is representing the Save 35th Avenue NE anti-bike-lane group in mediation). Howell, who is a principal and founder of Cedar River Group, contributed $275 to Durkan last year and $250 to Royer in 2009.

Rules adopted after the passage of Initiative 122 in 2015 bar contributions from contractors who made more than $250,000 from city contracts over the last two years; according to the city’s contractor list, Cedar River Group made $399,757 from city contractors between 2016 and 2018. However, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission last year dismissed a similar case involving contributions from Paul Allen, who owns a large stake in City Investors (the real estate arm of Allen’s Vulcan Inc.) , concluding that restricting Allen’s ability to donate to local candidates would violate his right to free speech. The “rationale,” according to SEEC director Wayne Barnett, was that “giving a campaign contribution is protected speech under the First Amendment.”  I asked Barnett if that finding might also mean that (under Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that unleashed unlimited political spending by corporations) that the contractor contribution restrictions themselves were unconstitutional. Barnett said that was an interesting legal question but that it hasn’t been tested (yet).


Afternoon Crank: “Giving the Appearance that the Chair Was Partying on Contributions to the Organization.”

1. The treasurer for the King County Democrats, Nancy Podschwit, along with several other members of the group’s finance committee, has called for a special meeting to remove embattled chairman Bailey Stober in a letter documenting no fewer than 13 instances of what they refer to as “inappropriate” spending by Stober. The letter and an accompanying memo add details to the financial case against Stober, who is also accused of targeting his female coworkers and a former employee whom he fired of sexual harassment and bullying.

Among other claims, the finance committee members say that Stober:

• Spent thousands on unauthorized entertainment and travel. The King County Democrats’ budget authorized $3,100 for “travel and entertainment.” “Per the budget, this was intended to be a $100 stipend per state party meeting for the chair and state committee people to attend the three state party meetings, as well as sponsorship for the WSDCC meetings,” the memo says. “However, it appears to include many other trips, and includes mileage, hotels and restaurants. … At no point has the chair asked for budgetary authority for general entertainment or travel purposes.” This extra spending included $2,336 to reimburse Stober for mileage on trips in the Seattle area and around the state, as well as two Airbnbs—one for a state committee meeting, which cost $857, and another for a board retreat, which cost $968. Most members of the board were told to reserve a few daytime hours on a Saturday for the retreat, but a select group was apparently invited to spend two nights at the house on Vashon, which was equipped with a hot tub, with all expenses paid for out of county Party funds. According to the memo, “The chair and some others stayed at the facility for Friday night and Saturday, posting on social media about grilling and drinking, giving the appearance that the chair was partying on contributions to the organization.” 

• Spent unauthorized funds on lightning-speed, business-level Internet service. Although the board authorized $250 a month for all utilities, combined, Stober signed a contract with Comcast for its most expensive, top-of-the-line business planthe “Deluxe 250,” which cost the group more than $500 a month. Comcast recommends the Deluxe 250 for e-commerce businesses with 12 employees or more and “extensive employee and customer wifi usage.” The King County Democrats had one employee (they now have none).

• Misled King County Democrats members and the board about the failure of its annual fundraiser, by claiming they had raised $17,100 when in fact it had resulted in a net loss of $730. (Once late contributions were counted, the event—which cost the party more than twice what was originally budgeted, and several thousand dollars more than a revised budget—raised about $630.) UPDATED: A member of the group has brought additional information to my attention suggesting that some of the revenues from pledges associated with this event may have been logged as part of the group’s general fundraising revenues, which would increase the net profit from the event. I will update this post when I get more detailed information about how these pledges were counted in the group’s budget.

• Misrepresented the success of the group’s fundraising in general, claiming at meetings that the group was meeting or exceeding fundraising goals when, in reality, fundraising fell short by more than $18,000 in 2017.

• Made most of the group’s campaign contributions last year in violation of bylaws that say the board must approve endorsements and contributions. These contributions included $75 to Matthew Sutherland, a candidate in Eastern Washington who was not endorsed by the group, which doesn’t generally endorse or fund candidates outside King County.

• Spent $10,135 more on candidate contributions than he was authorized to spend under the organization’s adopted budget, which included $20,000 for donations to candidates and campaign committees.

• Doled out contributions without board approval, despite repeated warnings that the board needed to sign off on such expenditures. Tara Gallagher, a member of the finance committee, is quoted in the memo saying that she met with Stober to discuss the unapproved contributions, and that he told her he would address it at the next board meeting. However, according to Gallagher, “At the next meeting he went into executive session to discuss the budget, which is weird, and mumbled something about the contributions when it would not show up in the minutes” because executive sessions are private.

• Signed an office lease through December 2018 that cost more than double ($1,800 a month) what the board approved ($800), without telling the board about the extra $12,000 annual commitment.

• Spent $6,600 in unapproved funds remodeling the rented office space—the sort of expense, the memo notes, that is typically borne by a landlord—along with $3,877 on office furniture and $5,500 on “office supplies,” nearly $5,000 more than the approved budget of $517. “It is unclear why this is so far over budget, however the treasurer notes that a laptop for the executive director, a printer and other items for the office were purchased,” the memo notes.

2. Podschwit brought up the financial allegations in a heated meeting of the 37th District Democrats last night, at which several officers proposed a resolution calling on Stober to step down and resolving to withhold dues from the King County Democrats until he does. (Ultimately, the resolution—which mirrored similar proposals that have been approved or will be considered in other districts—failed by a vote of 27 to 16.) In her comments supporting the resolution, Podscwhit described watching helplessly as Stober drained the group’s checking account. (Stober was, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of the situation unable to get bank approval to be on the checking account, so instead he directed Koss Vallejo’s spending.)

“I truly believe part of the harassment that Natalia went through was him asking to spend money over my continued telling her not to,” Podschwit said. “And I felt terrible—every time I would get a charge on the bank statement or a check that cleared that I was not told about, the first person I would contact was Natalia, and Natalia would tell me that Bailey told her that he was her boss and he told her to do it. We had repeated conference calls [with Stober and the group’s finance committee] on Monday nights where we went over this over and over again as the money slowly drained out of the checking account. … We have text messages, we have emails, explaining to us in no uncertain terms that he was large and in charge. Much like Donald Trump, he was the only one that could fix it. Well, we’re broke.”

Most of the time allotted for discussing the resolution calling on Stober to resign was taken up by a lengthy, discursive, and often misleading explanation of the proposal by 37th District Democrats chair Alec Stephens, a staunch Stober ally who previously compared his treatment by the King County Democrats to a lynching. (Stober and Stephens are black.) Stephens spent nearly 15 minutes very slowly explaining the events that led up to the resolution (“On the vice chairs’ side, they’re down to one now, as opposed to there were two, then there were originally three, or there were originally four…”) before taking the podium again, this time to speak explicitly against the resolution.

“The very first investigation that was done, in my opinion, was totally flawed. Its biggest flaw was not taking the time that we still have not had to actually hear from the accused.” (According to the vice chairs who did the initial investigation, Stober refused to speak to them without a lawyer present, then stopped responding to their requests to meet). He continued: “I am playing no cards, but there is a racial dynamic to this that is of great concern to me. … I think we have to let the process play out and not just say, ‘Well, we’ve decided, and so”—even without hearing him”—you’ve got to go.” At that point, a man’s voice rang out. “It’s called due process!” “It’s called due process,” Stephens echoed.

Shasti Conrad, the King County Committeewoman for the 37th District and—like Koss Vallejo, Stober’s alleged victim, a woman of color—had a response for that question. Speaking in favor of the resolution, she said: “You want to talk about due process? Where is the due process for the woman he fired while there was an ongoing investigation happening? What about the due process for the women who were subjected to that hostility in that work environment? What about the women who had to put up with the jokes, the comments, feeling less than because there wasn’t space for them to speak up? What about due process for them?  … I love this party, but if we are not able to stand up for women’s rights, for victims of sexual misconduct, if we are going to turn a blind eye to blatant financial malfeasance, then I no longer feel safe here.”

Later, Conrad said on Twitter that she was “heartbroken” by the “painful” experience of being “shouted down as I was calling for a Democratic Party free of sexual harassment and a party that is safe for all.”

Meanwhile, a second investigation into Stober remains stalled, as I reported Monday, because the one remaining vice chair has been unable to find volunteers to serve on the five-member panel investigating Stober. Notably, that panel will include two members directly chosen by Stober himself—one reason some potential volunteers have reportedly declined to participate in the process. Stober has called a special meeting of the executive board for next week to discuss next steps in his own investigation.

3. While that meeting was going on (I watched it after the fact thanks to video posted by the King County Precinct Committee Officers’ Media Group, or PCOMG), another meeting, also with a subtle racial subtext, was happening across town. The city council’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning committee held a public hearing at Northgate for residents of Districts 5 and 6, which encompass most of North Seattle, to weigh in on proposed upzones that will impact 6 percent of the two-thirds of Seattle’s residential land that is zoned exclusively for single-family use. Longtime (white) homeowners invoked theoretical ruined gardens and equally theoretical immigrants, refugees, and people of color who would be impacted by allowing more housing in the city, and renters, advocates for workers and low-income people, and even a few homeowners pushed back. I’ve collected those tweets in a Twitter moment.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, 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.

Conservative Activist’s Complaints Cause Some Democratic Groups to Call It Quits

A version of this story originally appeared on Seattle Magazine’s website.

Is conservative activist Glen Morgan, who has filed hundreds of complaints against Democrats and progressive organizations in the past few years, a good-government gadfly? Or is he a right-wing activist engaged in a partisan vendetta?

Morgan, a self-styled campaign finance reform advocate, insists he’s the former. But his choice of targets has raised questions about whether he’s more committed to reforming campaign finance laws or bringing down progressive candidates and causes.

Morgan, who heads up the conservative Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights, has spent the last year and a half filing hundreds of complaints against Democratic candidates and organizations as well as progressive unions and nonprofits, alleging violations of the state’s campaign-finance disclosure law. The complaints range from consequential (failing to file reports of expenditures on behalf of candidates) to mundane (filing a report one day late). More than two dozen of those complaints have been against district Democratic organizations which work to elect Democrats in legislative districts across the state. Morgan has not targeted any Republican or conservative groups.

Morgan, who lives in Thurston County, acknowledges that he became interested in campaign-finance law after “the state Democrat Party”—a pejorative term many conservatives use for the Democratic Party—filed a complaint against him stemming from a series of robocalls against a local Democratic Party candidate for Thurston County Commissioner.

“I was inspired by them” to start filing complaints, Morgan says, but he insists that his only goal is to demonstrate that the current state laws governing campaign finance are “nitpicky” and “confusing” and need to be reformed.  “I wasn’t terribly interested in campaign finance law until I started to experience the joys and wonders of the law myself and I realized that the only way that you could get reform was to demonstrate the need for reform,” Morgan says.

Whatever Morgan’s true intent, his complaints have resulted in settlements, fines, an unprecedented case backlog at the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), and the closure of at least four Democratic political committees, including two in Seattle. Last year, according to PDC spokeswoman Kim Bradford, the agency received 283 citizen action complaints. Of those, 246 were filed by Morgan. “We’re seeing this dramatic growth in complaints and cases, and we don’t have any additional compliance staff to handle them, so it is taking us longer to resolve cases,” Bradford says. The PDC can issue warnings, give guidance, or levy fines of up to $10,000 for violations.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office has seen a similar barrage of “mirror” complaints called citizen actions from Morgan, several of which have led to lawsuits, either by Morgan or by Ferguson himself. According to Brionna Aho, a spokeswoman for Ferguson, the number of citizen actions filed at the AG’s office increased from eight in 2015 to 52 in 2016 and to 383 last year; Aho estimates that 70 percent of those were filed by Morgan (about 268 last year alone).

In Seattle the 11th District Democrats and the 43rd District Democrats have dissolved their political action committees, which make endorsements and contribute to Democratic candidates, as the result of Morgan’s complaints. (The complaints also charged the organizations’ volunteer officers with individual violations.) While several other Democratic groups including the 49th  District Democrats in Vancouver, have decided to disband their PACs in response to Morgan’s complaints, others, including Seattle’s 37th and 36th District Dems, have not.

Julie Anne Kempf, the chair of the 46th District Democrats, said she couldn’t discuss Morgan’s case against the group, “as we are in the active litigation phase.” Other district Democratic groups declined to comment.

According to a post on the 43rd District Democrats’ website, titled “FAQ on 43rd District Democrats PAC closure,” the group decided to shutter its PAC and send the contents of its treasury to the state Democratic Party because “[t]he executive board determined that continuing to operate a PAC was not in line with the current goals of the organization and that it was too much risk considering that our only PAC activity was printing a sample ballot.” The 43rd has not contributed funds to candidates in several years, according to the group’s website.

Dmitri Iglitzen, a partner at the firm that is defending many of the Democratic groups Morgan is accusing of violations, says the PDC’s “unbelievably buggy, ancient computer system,” combined with a complicated filing calendar and byzantine rules, makes mistakes by party treasurers (most of whom are volunteers with no professional accounting or campaign experience) inevitable. Before the Morgan era, he says, the PDC could work with organizations to get their books in order. Now, he says, all bets are off.

“It’s an immediate crisis, because these [party officers] are volunteers, and they are scared,” Iglitzin says. “They feel responsible. They don’t know what to do. They don’t have enough money to pay for lawyers.” The end result, he says, is not just that Democratic groups will stop financing Democratic candidates—it’s that ordinary people will stop getting involved in politics at the local level. “This ends one of two ways. One is, it drives volunteers out of the world of political committees.” The other, he says, is a legislative fix.

Legislators are aware of the problem. House Bill 2398, sponsored by 11th District state Rep. Zack Hudgins, a Democrat, would prohibit activists like Morgan from filing complaints with the attorney general for violations involving less than $25,000. It would also give the PDC an opportunity to weigh in before a case is escalated to the attorney general’s desk, and provide more opportunities for groups to fix accidental violations. At the same time, it would increase the amount the PDC can fine a candidate or committee to $50,000.

The bill has bipartisan support, although both Republicans and Democrats oppose the provision allowing increased fines. At a hearing on the bill last week, the chairs of the King County Democrats, Bailey Stober, and the King County Republicans, Lori Sotelo, testified together on the bill. In his testimony, Stober said the PDC had been “weaponized” against political parties. Sotelo added that the two party leaders had taken the “unprecedented action” of appearing together to demonstrate how important it was to reform the state public disclosure law, which was passed by citizen initiative in response to Watergate in 1972 and has not been substantively updated since the mid-1990s.

Morgan testified too, calling the bill an inadequate response to the problems with the public disclosure law. He appeared to agree with both parties on one point, at least: Simplifying the public disclosure law would make it “easier for people to comply, so that volunteers and people new to the political process wouldn’t be so intimidated when they want to participate.”

BREAKING: Seattle City Attorney Charges Ex-Candidate Sheley Secrest With Theft, False Reporting

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes has filed criminal charges against former city council candidate Sheley Secrest, who allegedly used her own money to make it appear that she had more contributions toward the 400 required to qualify for democracy vouchers than she actually had. Secrest ran unsuccessfully for council Position 8, which is now held by Teresa Mosqueda, last year.

The charges include one misdemeanor charge of false reporting, which relates to the false reports Secrest allegedly filed with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, and one gross misdemeanor charge of attempted theft, which refers to the potential $150,000* Secrest attempted to receive from the city through publicly funded democracy vouchers. The 2017 election was the first election in which candidates could qualify for democracy vouchers—$100 in contributions that voters can give to the candidate or candidates of their choice. To qualify for democracy vouchers, candidates had to get 400 signatures, along with small contributions of $10 or more, from Seattle voters. As the Seattle Times reported last year, Secrest’s former campaign manager, Patrick Burke, alleged that Secrest used $560 of her own money and misrepresented it as coming from voters who signed a petition to qualify her for the vouchers. (Secrest did not end up qualifying even with the disputed funds.)

Last year, Burke filed a police report charging that Secrest had told him to collect signatures and not to worry about getting the necessary corresponding contributions; after he turned in 56 signatures at the Trans Pride Festival and at a local high school, he says, Secrest pulled $600 in 20-dollar bills from her purse and handed him $560. Secrest has denied all the allegations.

Burke, who says he is now living at a Salvation Army homeless shelter, has also charged that Secrest failed to pay him more than $3,300 for his services as her campaign manager. (The Ethics and Elections Commission reports that the Secrest campaign paid Burke just over $1,300 and owes him $1,675, but says he was also promised 11.8 percent in bonus pay based on how many signatures and contributions he brought in.) He has a hearing this afternoon in his small-claims case against Secrest. (More about that in tomorrow’s Morning Crank.) ”

“[Secrest] said, ‘If you can stick with this until we get the democracy vouchers, it will be worth your while,'” Burke says, “and I said, ‘If that’s what we need to do, let’s just push it and get done, but you have to understand that I can’t be at all the events that you need me to be at.” Burke says that by the time he was fired from the campaign, in July of last year, he could not afford to keep his phone on or pay for bus fare; part of his dispute is that Secrest paid new vendors before she paid him.

Secrest says Burke “has been paid for all services performed before the date of his termination,” adding, “Washington is an at-will employment state, meaning an employer does not need cause to fire an employee.  In this matter, we repeatedly informed Patrick that we could not afford to keep him on staff. We clearly told him to stop working for pay, and we repeatedly told him that we will reach out once funds were available.”

I have reached out to Secrest for comment on the charges against her, and will update this post if she responds.

The penalty for the simple misdemeanor charge is up to three months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000; for the gross misdemeanor, up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

In Portland, voters shut down a similar public-financing program after one candidate misappropriated more than $90,000 in public funds, and another was convicted for forging signatures.

This is a breaking news post and I will update as more information becomes available.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, 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.