Freedom Foundation

LERC Director Leaves Amid Ethics, Campaign Finance Investigations

The Washington State Labor Council (WSLC) said today that Sarah Laslett, Director of the Labor Education and Research Center at South Seattle College, is leaving. The WSLC did not elaborate on the circumstances surrounding Laslett’s departure, other than to note that she will be going to work at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center.

Laslett’s departure is the latest in a string of developments in recent years that have seen the taxpayer-funded center draw increasing scrutiny for its political activity and close ties to the WSLC.

  • February 4, 2014: The Freedom Foundation reported that LERC was working with the WSLC to host a series of workshops around the state training union members in how to fight efforts to get Washington to adopt a right-to-work (RTW) law.
  • January 14, 2015: The Freedom Foundation released the results of an extensive public records investigation into LERC’s activity. The documents indicate that LERC developed and executed the anti-RTW workshops at the request of the WSLC. Records also indicated that WSLC officials described LERC as “a key part of the WSLC’s agenda and forthcoming strategic plans.” In one email, Laslett stated that, “It makes sense for the Labor Center to take on strategic research projects for the WSLC.” On the same day, the Freedom Foundation filed a series of formal complaints against LERC based on the results of the records investigation.
    • A complaint was filed with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) based on documents indicating that Laslett engaged in significant and unreported lobbying in her attempts to get the state legislature to increase LERC’s taxpayer funding.
    • A complaint was filed with the Executive Ethics Board based on documents indicating that LERC bused participants in the 2013 Summer Institute for Union Women to a protest in SeaTac in favor of the $15 minimum wage initiative under consideration at the time.
    • Freedom Foundation also filed a complaint with the State Auditor’s Office (SAO) asking it to investigate LERC’s ideological and political activity for misuse of public funds.
  • March, 2015: The PDC opened an investigation into LERC’s activity. Freedom Foundation confirms that the Executive Ethics Board is conducting a preliminary investigation and provides additional documentation to the SAO upon request.
  • April, 2, 2015: In a party line vote, House Democrats shot down a floor amendment proposed by Rep. Matt Manweller (R-Ellensburg) to strip continued taxpayer funding for LERC out of the House budget, which seeks to triple LERC’s current state funds. In contrast, the Senate budget as initially proposed contains no state funding for LERC.
  • May 21, 2015: LERC director Sarah Laslett announced she is leaving LERC for unspecified reasons.

LERC currently receives about $160,000 per year from the state.

This is not the first time LERC’s activities have drawn scrutiny. In 2010, LERC lost half of its state funding and moved from The Evergreen State College to its current location after an internal Evergreen audit found the publicly funded group had been engaged in ethically questionable activity.