(OLYMPIA, Wash.) — A political arm of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has agreed to pay $250,000 in fines and penalties for attempting to conceal nearly $9 million in campaign activity from the voters and its own members.
According to the official announcement from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office (AGO), which filed the suit in Thurston County Superior Court, “After receiving a Citizen Action Notice in April of 2017, the AGO determined SEIU Council 14 made significant campaign contributions but failed to register and report as a political committee in at least 2014 and 2016.”
The original complaint to the AGO resulting in the lawsuit was made by the Freedom Foundation.
And while the $250,000 judgment — which includes $233,205 in civil penalties with $104,942.25 suspended for four years contingent on no violations in that period, as well as $18,300.85 in costs and fees — appears to be the seventh largest campaign finance penalty in state history, it still represents a drop in the bucket compared to the amount SEIU was trying to conceal.
It also exposes the rank hypocrisy of Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who has gleefully socked defendants from whom he hasn’t accepted substantial campaign contributions with much more severe sanctions for similar offenses.
In 2016, for example, Ferguson won a $6 million ruling (trebled to $18 million because the violations were found to be intentional) against the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit trade group that helped defeat I-522, a GMO labeling initiative here in 2013.
“This landmark case has been a long fight for accountability,” Ferguson crowed at the time. “This ruling sends an unequivocal message: Big money donors cannot evade Washington law and hide from public scrutiny. My office will hold you accountable.”
The grocers failed to disclose $28 million in contributions and expenditures, meaning the $6 million penalty amounted to about 21 percent of the amount not disclosed.
Likewise, in 2018, Ferguson imposed a nearly $9,000 penalty on the Freedom Foundation for reporting about $2,000 in expenditures opposing Initiative 1501 two weeks late.
In this case, SEIU’s penalty amounts to merely 3 percent of the amount it never reported.
“Bob Ferguson clearly has one standard for his friends, and another for people his friends tell him to punish,” said Freedom Foundation CEO Tom McCabe. “On orders from SEIU his other union allies, Ferguson has weaponized the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.”
Officially, Ferguson recused himself from the SEIU ruling because of his obvious conflict of interest, McCabe explained. But the subsequent ruling has his fingerprints all over it.
The release from the AG’s Office notes:
“Washington law requires registration of a political committee when a person has the expectation of receiving contributions or making expenditures to support or oppose candidates or ballot propositions. The law requires these committees to regularly report information to the Public Disclosure Commission about sources of contributions, starting with those over $25. Political committees must also regularly report information about their activities, including expenditures, debts and in-kind contributions. While Council 14 has its own registered political committee, the council itself also acted as a political committee by devoting a majority of its annual expenditures to electoral political activity during 2014 and 2016.”
The Council, the press release explains, contributed directly to ballot proposition committees, in addition to contributing to its own political committee, SEIU Washington State Council PAC, which in turn contributed to committees that supported or opposed candidates. SEIU Washington State Council PAC reported the contributions from the council.
By failing to register and report as a political committee, Council 14 did not disclose its contributions or expenditures as required by law, nor did it report the sources of these contributions.
What the document doesn’t make clear is that, had Ferguson’s lieutenants not agreed to take SEIU to court for its deception, the Freedom Foundation could have done so.
“The only difference is, we wouldn’t have let them off for pennies on the dollar, the way Ferguson did,” McCabe said. “We’d have held his union cronies to the same harsh standard he applies to everyone else when he’s trying to show what a tough guy he is.”
Nevertheless, the settlement represents the seventh time since 2015 that a Freedom Foundation complaint resulted in penalties for campaign finance violations.
- Feb. 19, 2019: The Attorney General fined the SEIU Washington State Council $250,000.
- July 17, 2017: The Attorney General fined the Washington State Budget and Policy Center over $30,000.
- Sept. 23, 2016: The Attorney General fined the Washington State Labor Council nearly $26,000.
- July 15, 2016: The Attorney General fined the Washington Association for Justice over $9,000.
- Feb. 8, 2016: The Attorney General fined SEIU 925 and its political action committee nearly $45,000.
- Jan. 29, 2016: The Attorney General fined SEIU 775 and its political action committee nearly $52,000.
- Dec. 15, 2015: The Public Disclosure Commission fined the Labor Education and Research Center for engaging in unreported lobbying.
The Freedom Foundation is a Northwest-based think and action tank promoting individual liberty, free enterprise and limited, accountable government.