Morning Fizz

Sawant Campaign Has Relied on Contractors, Skipping Employee Taxes

Caffeinated news featuring contractor money, affordable housing money, and rock and roll money

By Josh Feit April 17, 2015


Caffeinated News

1. Kshama Sawant supporters DIDN'T LIKE the Fizz item earlier this week that criticized her campaign for spending too much money on consultants; I didn't get grassroots campaigning, they complained in the comments thread—Sawant was actually spending big early on grassroots organizing, they said. That's certainly a good strategy.

But it's actually Sawant's campaign that doesn't appear to get it. Her report didn't say she was spending money on campaigning; it said she was spending a disproportionate 45 percent of her money on political consultants.

Her campaign manager Phillip Locker tells me he believes that was a "glitch" and the consultants were actually supposed to be listed as staffers, which, yes, would make a big difference.

However, there's no sign on Sawant's financial disclosure reports that Locker and the others working on Sawant's campaign (Joshua Koritz, Calvin Priest, Jonathan Rosenblum, and Bryan Watson) are actually paid staffers as opposed to contractors. Locker said he'd have to circle back with the campaign to confirm his "understanding that the agreement was that the people who are listed are salaried staff."

If it was an honest mistake, Sawant's records will need to be updated with evidence of payroll expenditures rather than freelance independent contracting payouts.

Currently, there's no sign of payroll taxes (such as unemployment insurance or social security payments), which indicates that if these five Sawant campaigners are supposed to be staffers, Sawant has been skirting the rules by not paying into the public workers' safety net ($15 minimum wages help, but paying into a system that helps workers in the long term is also critical). Any aggregate payments of more than $50 should be showing up, according to Seattle Ethics and Elections commission rules.

Saving money by paying workers as contractors is a classic campaign tactic; former mayor Greg Nickels was caught doing it back in 2001. (Nationally, Tea Partyer Sharron Angle got caught doing it in her 2010 run against Democratic leader U.S. senator Harry Reid.)

If it is a "glitch," Sawant's records will need to be updated with evidence of payroll expenditures rather than freelance independent contracting payouts.

UPDATE: Locker tells me the reports filed to date were accurate (the five men were simply contractors) and the campaign is now in the process of transitioning to putting three of them—Koritz, Priest, and Watson—on staff as organizers. He says he and Rosenblum will remain as contractors for the time being. Neither Locker nor Rosenblum have independent business licenses for indie contracting work according to state records. Locker also does political work for Socialist Alternative. 

Lest Sawant supporters think I'm a member of the bourgeois media who's not being fair to the left-wing candidate because, while I did check the reports of other incumbents (who I found weren't spending nearly as much as incumbent Sawant appeared to be spending on schmancy consultants), I didn't check Sawant's main opponent. It turns out, Seattle urban league leader Pamela Banks, Sawant's best-known challenger, spent a whopping 58 percent of the money she raised in March on consultants, including $6,250 of her $17,000 raised on mayor Ed Murray consultant Christian Sinderman.

2. Speaking of Sawant: Earlier this week, I noted that Mayor Murray was dismissive of Sawant's idea to use city bonds to build affordable housing on public land (something she asked the executive department to study late last year in a budget "statement of legislative intent"as council budget directives are known).

Sawant probably LIKES that Low Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee fired off an email to housing advocates this week applauding Olympia's city council for doing just that while knocking Seattle for not stepping up.

Lee's email stated (bolds mine):

Thought you would be interested in this. We are developing housing for homeless veterans, homeless young adults, and disabled people in downtown Olympia. The [Olympia] City Council approved selling us prime real estate for $100,000 for LIHI to build 43 new apartments. These would be permanent rental housing.  
If it is so easy for the City of Olympia to do this, why can’t Seattle do the same with its surplus land?  Where is Mayor Murray and [his affordable housing task force] HALA on this?

Lee, by the way, is one of the 40-plus candidates who has applied to fill Sally Clark's vacancy on city council. She's likely one of Sawant's top picks. 

3. Checking the video tape, I LIKE that PubliCola—which has been accused of being a lockstep Democratic party blog—endorsed the Republican candidate over then-Democratic candidate, now-indicted state auditor Troy Kelley back in 2012.

4. City council incumbent Tim Burgess CAN'T POSSIBLY LIKE that newcomer candidate John Roderick, the twee indie rock musician who's challenging him in the at-large position eight race, reports raising (whoa) $35,000 in his first week and a half of fundraising.

Roderick's evident entertainment biz connections netted contributions from writers, TV producers, and fellow hipster musicians in NYC and Brooklyn—as well as  $500 from LA-based Aimee "Voices Carry" Mann and Jeopardy! celebrity Ken Jennings, who contributed $666.

5. Urbanists (such as the smart-growth advocates at Futurewise who signed a letter to the council supporting building housing instead of a park in Roosevelt) have to LIKE that council member Jean Godden's parks committee postponed the April 21 hearing on the park legislation.

Activists caught the city off guard by opposing the city's idea to (yay!) seize slumlord Hugh Sisley's blighted property across from Roosevelt High School, but (boo!) build a park instead of transit-oriented development (TOD) housing on the newly upzoned turf. They now read the council's pause as a sign that the TOD idea has some traction and has forced council to reassess.


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