Seattle Mayor's Race 2013

McGinn Camp Files Ethics Complaint Against Pro-Murray Group

Mayor Mike McGinn's campaign files an ethics complaint against two groups supporting his opponent, Ed Murray.

By Erica C. Barnett September 13, 2013

Mayor Mike McGinn's campaign has filed an ethics complaint against two political committees that support his opponent, state Sen. Ed Murray (D-43, Capitol Hill)—the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, the political arm of the city's chamber of commerce, and People for Ed Murray, the pro-Murray independent-expenditure (IE) campaign created this year. 

The complaint charges that the groups have colluded to hide the fact that much of the money that has been going to People for Ed Murray has come from "large corporations" like the developers Vulcan and Richard Hedreen.

Those two developers both gave thousands to CASE, which turned around and gave money to People for Ed Murray. As a result, CASE, not Vulcan or Hedreen, will be listed among People for Ed Murray's top contributors on future advertising. Election rules require IEs to list their top five contributors on all ads and campaign mailers, like so: 

Essentially, the McGinn campaign is accusing CASE and People for Ed Murray of funneling money to the IE to disguise its original source.

"Why hide, instead of proudly announcing their support? What could it be that the contributor doesn’t want the voters to know?" the complaint asks rhetorically, then answers its own question: "By taking money through CASE instead of directly from corporate donors, PEMPAC could avoid association with the large corporations that were the true source of its fund." The implication being: The Murray PAC doesn't want voters to know who's being funded with dirty corporate money. 

"We're saying to [Seattle Ethics and Elections commissioner] Wayne [Barnett], you need to look into this obviously huge transparency problem," says John Wyble, a consultant for the McGinn campaign. "Don’t you think the idea behind disclosure is that people would be able to easily assess where the money comes from?"

Voters, of course, can do just that by looking at CASE's disclosure reports at the state Public Disclosure Commission or the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission—something we did in our August 20 story  "Vulcan Hedreen Behind Big Donations to Murray PAC" (which is cited in the complaint)—when we found that in addition to Vulcan and Hedreen (who gave $20,000 and $10,000 to CASE, respectively), Puget Sound Energy, Comcast, and Boeing (among others) each gave $5,000 to CASE this year. 

Wyble says the need to look up CASE's contributions adds an "extra step that we don't think is necessary." 

(UNITE HERE TIP and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, to union groups that are helping to fund two pro-McGinn independent expenditures, don't have to report the source of their funds—though, the union says the money comes from member dues— because unions don't meet the definition of PACs and so don't have to disclose the source of their money.) 

Dean Nielsen, a spokesman for People for Ed Murray, says the McGinn campaign's complaint is "absolutely baseless." 

"CASE made a contribution to People for Ed Murray and we accepted it. There was nothing nefarious about it. There’s nothing to it," Nielsen says. "It's just like a labor union making a contribution to a political committee, which happens all the time."

Chamber spokeswoman Terri Hiroshima says the group is reviewing the complaint now and will have a comment next week. 

The complaint also brings up CASE's failure to file its disclosure reports with the city ethics commission; the campaign has been filing the same reports at the PDC.

The ethics commission could fine the pro-Murray campaign if they agree that the group violated city ethics law.

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