Sawant responds to ethics commission charges

This afternoon, Council member Sawant issued a statement in response to the charges of ethics violations filed against her yesterday by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.

Here is the full text of her statement:

“I’m disappointed to see this complaint filed against my office and our movement. It’s shameful that while big business has license to run amok trying to bully or buy politicians – just look at our last election cycle – working people have to follow the most onerous of restrictions.

“My Council office has been preparing legislation to tax Amazon and big business to fund social housing and a Green New Deal. I will be unveiling the outline of this legislation tomorrow, Wednesday, February 12. At the same time, a grassroots effort has been underway to prepare for a ballot initiative, should the City Council fail to act on my legislation. Our movement’s strategy this year is similar to the two-pronged approach we took to successfully win the $15 minimum wage in 2014. (Recall in 2018, the majority of the Council repealed the Amazon Tax less than a month after unanimously approving it, after engaging in backroom talks with big business.) I have obviously been involved in the grassroots Tax Amazon movement, but on my personal time.

“Three weeks ago, my staff reached out to Wayne Barnett at SEEC with questions about how to navigate my Council office’s work in developing legislation, at the same time that there was a grassroots effort underway. We met with Mr. Barnett on January 28 and had subsequent follow up emails with him. In the meeting, we learned for the first time Mr. Barnett’s interpretation that Council resources could not be used to encourage community discussions about a potential ballot initiative, even one that hadn’t been drafted or filed. That was contrary to our previous understanding of the rule, based on our extensive interactions with the Ethics office over the last six years. Following that meeting with Mr. Barnett, we immediately made all the necessary adjustments, separating the Council office from those community discussions. The materials Mr. Barnett cited in the complaint all predate our January 28 meeting with him.

“I look forward to meeting with the Commission to resolve this matter.”

Some thoughts on her statement:

  • I’m curious about her statement that “working people have to follow the most onerous of restrictions.” First, Sawant is not “working people”; she is a powerful city official with a $130,000 salary who is empowered to make decisions on how taxpayer dollars are spent. Second, I wonder which “onerous restrictions” she is referring to: that city funds can’t be spent for non-city purposes? That city funds can’t be spent to promote (or oppose) ballot initiatives? That a ballot initiative campaign must register itself within two weeks of when it starts fundraising? That city funds may only be spent lobbying the state government on officially-adopted city positions and through official channels?  I fail to see how any of those are “onerous.” I do see how they all are necessary to a well-functioning democracy.
  • Sawant is lying when she says that they “immediately made all the necessary adjustments, separating the Council office from those community discussions,” and that the materials “all predate our January 28 meeting with him.” Even if all the materials in question were authored before January 28, they remained posted on Sawant’s Council web site as recently as this morning (Sawant’s team scrubbed the site this afternoon). And on February 8, her office sent out this email, stil promoting the movement to tax Amazon. Also, the February 9th event is still listed as co-hosted by her office. There was no separation between her Council office and the Tax Amazon movement’s efforts to plan a ballot initiative.
  • The fact that Sawant admits that she and her staff were told on January 28th that promoting the ballot initiative using her office’s resources was illegal, followed up with further emails confirming their understanding, and yet they still continued to promote it, makes the matter all the worse. Either she and her Council office are grossly negligent,  or they willfully and with full knowledge violated the law. In either case, Sawant has shown that she is not self-policing her office, and the SEEC has every reason to sanction her.
  • Check out Sawant, holding a press conference — ostensibly about preemption in HB 2907 — in the lobby of City Hall on February 7th, surrounded by signs with her name and the city seal on them, promoting the “Tax Amazon” movement and a ballot iniative (both at 4:28, and again at 22:00).  It’s definitely not “on her personal time.” Her first invited speaker (at 8:28) endorses the Tax Amazon movement and invites the public (twice!) to the February 9th Tax Amazon “Action Conference” where they planned the ballot initiative. Her fourth invited speaker (jump to 20:00) says that this week the “Tax Amazon” movement will be going to Olympia “to protest and to occupy state legislators’ offices.” She is clearly still using public resources to support the ballot initiative as well as lobbying in Olympia.

Let’s not forget, however, that according to Sawant’s official bio on her Council web page, “Kshama Sawant is not a career politician.”


  1. Excellent article and the ones before also. Thank you for helping us—the real general public—know what these currently elected people are doing so we can make sure to not elect them AGAIN!!!

  2. So, she isn’t supposed to promote her own initiative on her website? Come on. This is just petty.

    Other council members have done the same thing, paid a small fine, and it didn’t make news. Let’s be honest. Some people just hate Sawant, and will latch onto ANY negative story and pretend it is some explosive scandal.

    1. No, by law she is not allowed to use any city resources in support of local ballot initiatives, nor in lobbying the state government outside of officially adopted positions and actions of the City of Seattle. Flip it around: what if she were using city funds to OPPOSE a voter initiative campaign? That is more clearly problematic, but demonstrates that nothing good happens when the city meddles in voter initiatives — thus the prohibition in law.

      Besides, it’s more than just her own web site. Her staff have been assisting the effort as well, and we don’t yet know what they have spent on producing materials for the campaign or on supporting the events. The ballot initiative campaign should be reporting all such monetary and in-kind contributions in its reports — but oops, they haven’t registered yet, let alone filed any reports.

      Sawant can do whatever she wants in her personal time, wth her own money, and with a personal web site. She just can’t use taxpayer-funded resources to do it.

      1. I’m not saying she didn’t break any rules. Just that the level of outrage is ridiculous for what amounts to a parking ticket. Sally Bagshaw broke the exact same rule and paid $150 fine. Are you outraged about that?

        The constant Sawant bashing from the usual suspects is just petty and overwrought. She won the election, despite the best efforts of her many opponents. Now she gets another term. Muckraking won’t make a difference.

        1. I believe I covered Bagshaw’s charges and fine at the time. Not sure I’d say I’m “outraged” at what Sawant is doing, but I do want to make sure that she, her staff, and the ballot initiative campaign are following the law. And what Sawant is doing is far greater than what Bagshaw did. Sawant and her office have also co-hosted two events. We don’t yet know how much taxpayer $ they have spent on support for the events and the campaign in general. Did they pay for promotional materials? Did they pay the rent for the facility the events were hosted in? That’s one of the reasons it’s so important for the ballot campaign to register and start filing reports: so we can follow the money.

          Suppose Sawant’s office was spending city funds to OPPOSE a grassroots ballot initiative. Then the insidious nature of allowing this kind of activity is much more obvious. Either way, city officials do not get to put their thumb on the scale of the voter initiative process. That’s why there are laws against it, and those laws need to be enforced.

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