Tag: Rob Saka

Single-Issue City Attorney Backs Candidates Who Support Drug Prosecutions; District 1 Candidate Rob Saka Benefits from Bagel Mailers

1. In a last-minute endorsement (of sorts), Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison sent out a mass email on Saturday urging voters to support the city council candidates who have consistently supported legislation—which will almost certainly pass later this summer—that would empower her to prosecute drug users for simple possession and for using drugs, other than alcohol and marijuana, in public. The law would incorporate a new state law into city law, granting the city attorney the authortiy prosecute misdemeanor-level drug use and possession.

The letter painted an apocalyptic picture of the city where Davison serves as chief local prosecutor.

“Parents should be able to take their kids on the bus without inhaling plumes of fentanyl smoke. We all should be able to walk in our parks and sidewalks without stepping over needles and drug paraphernalia. We should be able to get to work without dodging a gauntlet of drug deals,” Davison wrote.

“Unfortunately, some members of City Council voted not to allow Seattle to adopt our new State law on drugs. For me to have authority to prosecute and intervene, the new state law must be put into our city code by City Council.”

Although Davison’s letter, sent from her campaign email address, claims the proposed law would empower her to “intervene” in drug users’ cycle of addiction, the law itself is silent on intervention and diversion. In reality, according to a city council staff analysis, the legislation only gives the city attorney the authority to prosecute.

The city council candidates who unequivocally said yes to a Seattle Times survey question about prosecuting drug users, according to a survey conducted by the Seattle Times, are, in order of district: Rob Saka and Phil Tavel (District 1); George Artem and Ken Wilson (District 4); Boegert Bibby (District 5); Pete Hanning, Victoria Palmer, and Shea Wilson (District 6); Bob Kettle, Olga Sagan, Aaron Marshall, Wade Sowders, and Isabelle Kerner (District 7). District 7 incumbent Andrew Lewis also told the Seattle Times he supports prosecuting drug users, but because he cast the tie-breaking vote against the bill before saying he would support it, he does not meet Davison’s criteria.

2. Meta attorney Rob Saka, a frontrunner in District 1, may be the primary beneficiary of billboards and mailers advertising Eltana Bagels, the company founded by another D1 candidate, Stephen Brown. As we’ve reported, Brown has insisted the mailers and billboards, which look strikingly similar to his campaign materials, were just ordinary advertising for the Montreal-style bagel stores.

That didn’t stand up to scrutiny by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, however: The mailers, which featured the phrase “Seattle Deserves Better…—Stephen Brown” and offered $25 in free bagels, look like campaign literature, and the billboards—which also featured Brown’s name—were mostly located in District 1, which does not have a single Eltana store. After conferring with Ethics and Elections director Wayne Barnett, the Brown campaign filed an amended campaign report that included $33,000 for the West Seattle portion of the mailing and billboards.

Last week, the ethics commission went even further, voting—in response to a request from Saka—to allow him to raise and spend more than $93,750, the maximum allowed under Seattle election law unless another candidate goes above the spending cap. Ordinarily, this happens when a candidate’s own campaign spending, plus independent expenditures on their behalf, breaches the cap, but the city also allows candidates to spend more than the mandatory maximum if another candidate violates election law.

Ironically, Saka himself has already benefited from tens of thousands of dollars in spending from an independent expenditure campaign backed by real estate moguls and a Trump-donating billionaire, putting him over the limit himself. Maren Costa, a labor-backed candidate, requested a lift on the cap for her own campaign and received it last week.

Because last week’s hearing was about Saka’s motion to lift the cap, the Brown campaign’s $33,000 valuation for the mailers was not in question. The commission will likely seek a new valuation, but hasn’t yet, so as of now, the old, under-the-limit valuation stands. This creates a bizarre Schrödinger’s cap situation in which the Brown campaign has both spent more than the legal limit (according to the ethics commission) and is within the limit (according to the commission’s executive director and the campaign itself).

Campaign Fizz: The Case of the Carbon-Copy Mailers

1. Elliott Bay Neighbors and University Neighbors, two independent expenditure groups funded by local real estate developers and Republican donors, including Trump 2020 contributor George Petrie, sent out mailers supporting District 1 city council candidate Rob Saka and District 4 candidate Maritza Rivera. The identically worded mailers include the same factual errors about the history of homelessness in Seattle.

One one side, the Saka/Rivera mailers both promise “[Saka/Rivera] is endorsed by people you know and trust,” followed by a quote from a supporter (Community Police Commission member Harriett Walden and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, respectively) and a snippet of the Seattle Times’ endorsement for that candidate.

On the flip side, both feature the headline “After years of failure on homelessness…” followed by a list of six points in time (plus “2023: UTTER FAILURE”) that are supposed to represent that failure.

The timeline—whose only job is to be a timeline—includes two dates that are wrong. Mayor Ed Murray declared a homelessness emergency in 2015, not 2016, and the JumpStart payroll tax (“additional taxes for housing”) passed in 2020, not 2021. Perhaps more substantively, Murray’s declaration, King County’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness; the “failure” of that plan; and the establishment of the original Nickelsville encampment have nothing to do with the city council; they were the responsibility of Ed Murray, King County, King County, and a group of unsheltered people, respectively.

Although the mailer describes JumpStart as “additional taxes for housing,” the fund was (pretty famously) crippled in its first few years as former mayor Durkan and current Mayor Harrell used it to backfill shortfalls in other spending areas, and does not exclusively pay for housing.

According to campaign finance reports, the mailers were designed by a consultant in Wisconsin.

Direct campaign donations are limited in Seattle, but independent political committees can spend unlimited amounts supporting or opposing candidates and ballot measures. Two of the chief supporters of the pro-Saka and -Rivera campaigns, George Petrie (and his wife Alyssa) and John Goodman, contributed a total of $190,000 to a pro-Bruce Harrell campaign and $100,000 to Compassion Seattle, the unfunded shelter and encampment-clearing mandate that a judge struck from the ballot for going beyond the scope of a local initiative.

2. Stephen Brown, the founder of Eltana Bagels and a candidate for City Council Position 1 (West Seattle), reported spending $33,577 to reimburse Eltana for billboards and mailers that appeared to promote Brown’s campaign. The mailers read “Seattle Deserves Better…—Stephen Brown” on the outside and opened to reveal an offer for $25 in free bagels. Brown maintained that the billboards and mailers, along with a Youtube video that concluded, “Stephen Brown fixed the bagel problem in Seattle—who knows what’s next?” had nothing to do with his campaign.

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission disagreed, sending Brown a list of questions about the ads and warning him that his campaign could no longer access public funding if he did not “resolve this issue.”

Had Brown not resolved the issue by paying for the ads, the ethics commission could’ve added his official campaign mailers to the pile of evidence suggesting the Eltana ads were meant to support his campaign. The design of the Vote Stephen Brown ad is extremely similar to the Eltana ad, from the fonts to the striking deep-purple-and-yellow color scheme to the photos of bagels to the choice of fonts.

3. Saka, who is one of Brown’s competitors, has asked the elections commission to lift spending limits for his campaign, arguing that Brown understated the true value of the ads and mailers and has actually spent more than the $93,750 limit for candidates using the city’s democracy voucher program. The ethics commission will hold a meeting tomorrow to consider his request.

UPDATE: Turns out our prediction (that the commission wouldn’t grant Saka’s request because they had already accepted a $33,000 estimate for the Eltana billboards and mailers) was wrong: The commission voted to grant the request on Thursday, agreeing with Saka’s campaign that the Brown campaign should have included the full value of all the money Eltana spent advertising bagels/Brown citywide, and not just in District 1.

During a lengthy discussion, commission director Wayne Barnett argued that it wouldn’t make much sense to advertise a West Seattle campaign in, say, Ballard. Commissioner Zach Pekelis, an attorney at Pacific Law Group, countered that ordinarily “we don’t think of campaign expendtures being discounted based on the efficacy or the inefficacy of the campaign expenditure,” and noted that if a District 1 campaign directly spent money on ads in another district, it “would definitely count” as a campaign expense.