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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

September 13, 2013 at 4:56 PM

McGinn campaign files ethics complaint against two pro-Murray PACs

Post updated at 6:30 p.m. with comment from Chamber spokeswoman.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s re-election campaign filed an ethics complaint today alleging two business-funded PACs supporting challenger Ed Murray “may have colluded to deliberately conceal information from Seattle voters.”

The complaint to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission by McGinn campaign attorney Gary Manca targets People for Ed Murray and Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), two PACs that have backed Murray with independent expenditures in the mayor’s race.

The complaint’s language is in keeping with the overall McGinn campaign theme of portraying Murray as a tool of the downtown business establishment.

Manca cited late disclosure filings and transfers between the two PACs, arguing Murray’s “corporate backers” may have been trying to hide the extent of their support from Seattle voters.

As we reported Thursday, CASE, the PAC for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, did fail to properly register and file with the Seattle Ethics Commission until Thursday, when it corrected the omission by filing dozens of tardy campaign disclosures.

A chamber spokeswoman, Terri Hiroshima, said the late filings were due to an inadvertent error — the group had been filing electronically with the state Public Disclosure Commission but neglected to activate a “toggle switch” in the PDC computer system that would have automatically also sent the documents to the Seattle Ethics Commission. “There is no basis for this complaint,” she added in an email.

Manca alleged a more sinister purpose for the late filings and for donations made to CASE by local developers like Vulcan, R.C. Hedreen Co. and other companies including Puget Sound Energy and Comcast. Since the corporate money flowed first to CASE, which then cut checks to People for Ed Murray, the ads paid for by the second PAC did not have to list the “large corporations that were the true source of its funds,” the complaint argues.

Dean Nielsen, a political consultant running People for Ed Murray, called the McGinn campaign’s allegations “desperation city.”

“We’ve done everything we can in the most ethical way,” Nielsen said. “We’re working really hard to make sure we are completely compliant.”

Both McGinn and Murray have benefited from the backing of independent expenditure groups that can raise unlimited money and are not subject to the $700-per-donor limit that applies to candidate committees. Two union-funded committees have backed McGinn with more than $100,000 in contributions, while People for Ed Murray has raised more than $150,000, with its biggest donations coming from CASE.

It’ll be up to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to decide if the complaint has any merit. If the commission finds violations of city campaign finance laws, it could fine the committees involved.

Comments | More in 2014 elections | Topics: ed murray, ethics complaint, mike mcginn


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