Monorail Moola

Some backers have big bucks; city probes opponents.

With just eight weeks until Seattleites decide the fate of the proposed 14-mile, $1.7 billion elevated transit line from Ballard to West Seattle, the campaigns for and against the monorail have taken interesting turns. On Aug. 26, the pro-monorail contingent received its largest contribution, $10,000, from the investment firm of Goldman Sachs, of all places. Add that to a list of donors that includes some of the city's most important developers—Wright Runstad, Paul Allen's Vulcan, and William Justen of Samis—and it appears that a lot of fat cats have boarded the people's train. Meanwhile, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) is investigating a group opposing the monorail for possible violations of the city's election code that were brought to light by a Seattle Weekly story (see "Opponents and Ethics," Aug. 8).

For a supposedly grassroots campaign, the pro-monorail camp is raking in an awful lot of establishment money. Rise Above It All/Monorail YES! reports it has received more than $72,000, including 34 contributions of $500 or more, much of it from law firms, investment banks, and building and developer interests, which stand to make money planning, financing, and building the project. Has the people's monorail campaign lost its roots? Peter Sherwin, co-chair of the pro-monorail effort, allows that the campaign is "not the same campaign we had two years ago. Other people that are more established have joined our effort."

But Sherwin notes that the campaign is edging in on 500 donations—many of them under $100. In any case, running a citywide campaign isn't cheap, no matter how popular your cause. "Obviously, we would like to raise a substantial amount of money," Sherwin says.

"There is a dramatic shift from the populists to the deep pockets," warns Henry Aronson of Citizens Against Monorail. He finds the changes in the monorail effort troubling.

ARONSON HAS POTENTIAL trouble of his own. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission is investigating whether members of the anti-monorail campaign and an aide to Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin violated the city's election code by participating in a July 23 meeting at the offices of Gogerty Stark Marriott, a prominent public-relations firm.

According to investigator Harley Anders, the SEEC is looking into three questions: Did the meeting of monorail opponents, a member of the P.R. firm, and representatives of city and county officials constitute the founding of Citizens Against Monorail? Did the use of a room at the offices of Gogerty Stark Marriott and the participation of a representative of the firm, David Schaefer, constitute an in-kind contribution by the firm to Citizens Against Monorail? And did Sara Nelson, aide to Seattle City Council Transportation Chair Conlin, campaign on city time by participating in the meeting—on a regular business day between 1:30 and 3 p.m.? If Citizens Against Monorail did form at the July 23 meeting, Anders says, they should have filed paperwork with the SEEC within two weeks of the event.

Aronson says that, besides him, none of the people at the meeting is now a member of Citizens Against Monorail. "I wish we had started [then], but we didn't," he says.

The group at the meeting included political consultant Tim Hatley, who is a former aide to County Executive Ron Sims, consultant Lynn Claudon, Schaefer, and Nelson, among others. They appear to have found little common cause. While Hatley and Aronson say they attended the meeting with the intention of opposing the monorail, Aronson says he didn't end up working with Hatley because he didn't want his effort to be seen as a "stalking-horse" for Sims and the unrelated Sound Transit light-rail effort. Aronson does note, however, that both Hatley and Claudon have donated money to Citizens Against Monorail.

Conlin's aide Nelson claims she didn't know that the meeting would include efforts to jump-start an opposition campaign. She says she thought the meeting would be for "people who had technical questions about the monorail." Her plan, she says, was to note the questions and convey them to her boss, something she has also done for Conlin with monorail proponents. During the meeting, she says, "I was listening to concerns and providing information on City Council timelines and possible actions."

Schaefer says the SEEC hasn't called him yet. When they do, they'll discover he has left Gogerty Stark Marriott to work at the Port of Seattle. Schaefer pleads ignorance: "I don't know how to respond because I don't know what the rules are." If Gogerty Stark Marriott should have declared an in-kind contribution, "who would we have made it to?" Schaefer wonders. "There was no committee" opposing the monorail at the time of the meeting.

Even if everyone is cleared by the SEEC, the investigation is a distraction for Citizens Against Monorail, which is already in a difficult race against the popular monorail.

ghowland@seattleweekly.com ebarnett@seattleweekly.com

 
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