Freedom Foundation

Seattle unions flout city’s “Honest Elections” law

A review of election records compiled by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) and city finance data indicates several labor unions contributed to candidates for city office in 2017 despite a provision in the city’s “honest elections” ordinance appearing to prohibit such contributions.

The findings are the result of an investigation conducted by the Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based free market think tank, which has called on the SEEC to investigate and, if appropriate, take enforcement action.

In 2015, voters in the city of Seattle passed Initiative 122, the “honest elections” law, with the goal of “reducing the influence of money, ensuring accountability, and preventing corruption in City of Seattle government.”

While I-122 is best known as the basis for the city’s controversial, tax-funded “democracy voucher” program — wherein Seattle voters receive four $25 vouchers they can contribute to candidates of their choosing running for city office — the measure also contained a host of other election regulations.

One such regulation is found in Seattle Municipal Code 2.04.601 and is entitled, “No Campaign Contributions from City Contractors or their PACs.” It states:

No Mayor, City Council member or City Attorney or any candidate for any such position shall knowingly accept any contribution directly or indirectly from any entity or person who in the prior two years has earned or received more than $250,000, under a contractual relationship with the City. No Mayor, City Council member or City Attorney or any candidate for any such position shall knowingly solicit a contribution for himself or herself or for any political party, political committee, campaign committee or public office fund, directly or indirectly from any entity or person who in the prior two years has earned or received more than $250,000, under a contractual relationship with the City.

The city currently has a total of 28 different collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with 17 different unions.

Data obtained by the Freedom Foundation from the Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services under the state Public Records Act indicate the city collected $15.3 million in union dues and fees from employees’ pay in accordance with a CBA from 2016-17.

At least eight unions received more than $250,000 in dues and fees during this period under a CBA with Seattle but still contributed to candidates for city office in the 2017 election.

Candidates benefitting from such contributions included Mayor Jenny Durkan; City Councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda; City Attorney Pete Holmes and city attorney candidate Scott Lindsay; and, mayoral candidates Ed Murray, Jessyn Farrell and Bob Hasegawa.

“The law is quite clearly intended at preventing entities that benefit from doing business with Seattle from having undue influence over city hall,” said Freedom Foundation Labor Policy Director Maxford Nelsen.

“Unions representing city employees receive millions of dollars in union dues collected by the city on their behalf,” he said. “Labor unions are a special interest group like any other and should play by the same rules as other contractors doing business with the city. We look forward to seeing whether the SEEC acts on this information.”

A copy of the full report is available here.