The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission has fined the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), the political arm of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, $1,500 for violating city election law when it accepted a $15,000 check from the South Lake Union developer Vulcan with instructions that the money go to People for Ed Murray, a pro-Murray independent expenditure campaign, in the primary election.
The campaign for Mayor Mike McGinn filed complaints against both CASE and People for Ed Murray, charging that the two groups colluded to hide the fact that much of the money contributed to People for Ed Murray came from Vulcan and other large corporations. The complaint (citing PubliCola's reporting linking Vulcan to CASE, and thus to People for Ed Murray) charged that Vulcan gave money to CASE, which funneled the money to People for Ed Murray in an effort to conceal its true provenance.
CASE received the $15,000 check from Vulcan on July 24 or 25, and CASE contributed $17,500 to People for Ed Murray on August 2.
Today's ruling validates half of those charges.
It concludes that Vulcan's Phil Fujii (a onetime deputy mayor for McGinn) asked CASE director George Allen to earmark Vulcan's $15,000 contribution to CASE to promote Murray in the primary. In a July 24 email to People for Ed Murray fundraiser Rachel Padgett, the ruling continues, Allen wrote that a "hefty check is coming in today/tomorrow that will ensure the buffer we need for our next contribution to you for $15K." CASE received the $15,000 check from Vulcan on July 24 or 25, and CASE contributed $17,500 to People for Ed Murray on August 2.
The ruling exonerates People for Ed Murray itself, concluding that "there is no evidence that People for Ed Murray or Ed Murray for Mayor [the official campaign] had knowledge of the communications between Vulcan and CASE, or sought in any way to conceal the source of any contribution made to People for Ed Murray or Ed Murray for Mayor."
The fault is with CASE, which failed to disclose the Vulcan earmark. And today, the ethics commission fined CASE $1,500, of which $750 is suspended unless CASE doesn't violate the city's elections code again through the end of 2015.
In a statement, McGinn consultant John Wyble said that in 25 years of watching Seattle politics, "I've never seen such a brazen level of coordination and concealment of donors in a mayor's race." Wyble demanded an apology from the Murray campaign, which is separate from People for Ed Murray.
Murray campaign spokesman Sandeep Kaushik says, "This doesn't have anything to do with any actions by the Murray campaign."
We have a message out to CASE for their comment on the ruling.
In 2008, the SEEC fined a PAC backing mayoral candidate Joe Mallahan $5,000—$2,500 of it suspended—for failing to report $100,000 worth of deposits in a timely manner.
SEEC director Wayne Barnett says he doesn't think the CASE case "was in the same league" as the charges against the Mallahan PAC.