Afternoon Jolt

Friday Jolt: Congressional Investigation and Initiative Irritation

Today's winners & losers.

By Afternoon Jolt March 28, 2014

Winner: Spokane County Democrats

The board of the Office of Congressional Ethics, which looks into complaints of unethical behavior by members of Congress, has found that "there is substantial reason to believe that Representative McMorris Rodgers used congressional funds, staff, and office space for campaign activities."

As a result, the report, released this week, recommended further investigation into allegations raised by a former McMorris Rodgers communications director that U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA, 5) used on-the-clock staff to do campaign work, such as writing campaign press releases and speeches and also preparing McMorris Rodgers for campaign debates, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Party-line Republican Rep. McMorris Rodgers is a close ally of GOP majority leader Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) and is the fourth-ranking Republican in the house (and the highest-ranking woman).

The Spokane County Democrats seized on the news, releasing a statement today saying they were "heartened" by the committee's "commitment to continue its internal investigation of the Congresswoman's reported misuse of government and campaign monies."

The Democrats, who've had little to be happy about recently (rising star McMorris Rodgers, who was tapped to give the Republican response to Obama's State of the Union speech this year, has won reelection four times after first taking office in 2005), sounded a little giddy, adding: "We are withholding final judgment on the matter until Congress has completed its investigation. We, nonetheless, are very troubled by the Office of Congressional Ethics' conclusion that there is 'substantial reason to believe' that the charges are true.

"The Spokane County Democrats will be following this matter closely, and we are confident that Congress will uncover the truth regarding this potential breach of the public's trust. The people need to know that truth before they vote in November."

And no winner or loser, just a Jolt: 

Attorneys for Safeway slapped supporters of Initiative 111, which would eliminate the city's new cap on the number of on-duty drivers for ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft and reduce the cost of a traditional taxi license, with a cease-and-desist letter yesterday. (The City Council passed regulations earlier this month putting a 150 cap on drivers logged in to any one time per company.)

In the letter, attorney Vanessa Power, from the Seattle firm Stoel Rives, cites a January 2013 "notice to petitioners" saying that they aren't allowed to gather signatures on Safeway property. Safeway employees, Power says, have asked I-111 petitioners to leave on more than one occasion and had the petitioners refuse. Power writes that if the petitioners don't stop asking for signatures on Safeway property, they will be cited for trespass and could be sued. "If you are engaged in initiative petitioning on Safeway property, you are doing so without Safeway’s permission."

The notice Power cites says “Safeway stores are NOT open to the public for political activity of any kind. If you are engaged in initiative petitioning on Safeway property, you are doing so without Safeway’s permission."

When contacted by phone, Power said only, “I am not available for comment at this time.”

In an email responding to Power’s letter, I-111 sponsor Elizabeth Campbell wrote, “There is no Initiative 111 circulating at this time, hence, no one associated with I-111 is circulating anything on Safeway property.  It has not received final approval from the City of Seattle in order to be circulating.”

Campbell filed her initiative at the city clerk’s office on March 21. If and when the clerk’s office approves it, the city attorney’s office will create a formal ballot title for the proposal.

(Meanwhile, an apparently separate campaign endorsed by the major ridesharing companies, Keep Seattle’s Ride Options, has formed to repeal the legislation the council passed regulating rideshares earlier this month. We have a message out to them to find out if they’re affiliated in any way with Campbell’s group.)

However, in the very next sentence of her email, Campbell adds that “someone at Safeway should read the petition that is being circulated!” The petition is also available for anyone to print out on Campbell’s web site.

Campbell has not yet returned a message seeking comment.

We have a call out to Safeway about its policy on petitioners. We also have a call out to City Clerk Monica Martinez Simmons, who oversees the city’s initiative process, for clarification about the point at which initiative supporters may begin gathering signatures. 

Last year, I-517, a Tim Eyman-sponsored initiative that would have given signature gatherers unrestricted access to public buildings, as well as space outside stores and shopping malls, failed.



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