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March 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM

Ethics complaint filed against Sawant, political allies

A 50-page ethics complaint filed last week says Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and her political allies, the Socialist Alternative party and 15 Now, the organization pushing for a hike in the minimum wage in 2015, haven’t registered as lobbyists or campaign organizations and haven’t reported campaign contributions as required by city ethics rules and state campaign disclosure laws.

The complaint, filed by activist Elizabeth Campbell, questioned whether any line exists between Sawant, the party and the campaign. Campbell brought the ethics complaint on behalf of her non-profit organization, Democracy Workshop, which provides election services including paid signature gathering  for initiative campaigns. Campbell said a number of people and businesses had brought concerns to her about Sawant’s activities.

Wayne Barnett, director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC), said he dismissed a similar (but shorter) query from Campbell in December alleging that Sawant had improperly used city facilities and equipment in holding a 15 Now news  conference at City Hall.

He said City Hall is open to anyone and it isn’t a violation of ethics rules for a campaign to hold an event there. He also said that Sawant identifying herself as a member of the Socialist Alternative party, even though city council positions are non-partisan, is not an ethics violation.

Barnett said he held a training session for Sawant and her staff — as he does for all newly elected officials — after she took office in January about city rules that prohibit the use of city resources for political campaigns.

Philip Locker, national political director for the Socialist Alternative party, said Sawant hasn’t received a copy of the complaint and couldn’t comment specifically on its claims.

But he said Sawant, her staff and the Socialist Alternative party has been in regular contact with Barnett and the Ethics and Elections Commission.

“We’ve made every effort to comply and have complied with SEEC’s guidelines and rules,” Locker said, adding that Sawant ran and was elected as a socialist.

“She’s never made any secret of her political affiliations or political views,” he said.

To date, only one initiative has been filed on raising the minimum wage and that was filed by Campbell. It would roll back city Business and Occupation taxes while creating two wage tiers in the city, the highest at $15 an hour.

Campbell said Monday that her initiative likely would be refiled to divide it into two initiatives, one to address business taxes and the other to set a minimum wage scale.

Comments | Topics: 15 Now, Elizabeth Campbell, Kshama Sawant

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