This week, Seattle City Council incumbents Jim Compton, Judy Nicastro, and Heidi Wills decided to return at least $30,000 in controversial campaign donations from nude-dancing impresario Frank Colacurcio Jr. and his associates. Their decisions came Monday, Aug. 4, before the arrival of a critical letter from Tim Burgess, former chair of the city's Ethics and Elections Commission. He said he was dismayed by the council's short memory of "Seattle's corrupt past" and asked the three council members to return the more than $32,000 in re-election campaign donations that have been tied to a rezone effort by Colacurcio Jr. (see "Barely Naked Truth," July 30).
Citing a story in Seattle Weekly, Burgess noted that Compton, Nicastro, Wills, and Richard McIver all report being personally lobbied on the rezone either by Colacurcio attorney Gil Levy or former Gov. Al Rosellini, a Colacurcio family friendpointing out that "city records contain no declarations that ex parte contacts occurred during the rezone consideration. Declarations of ex parte contacts are required when the Council sits in quasi-judicial judgment of a rezone matter." Nicastro and McIver say the lobbying occurred before the matter was declared quasi-judicial on Jan. 22. Wills was not asked about the time frame. Compton, however, says Levy phoned him shortly before the June 16 vote. "I don't know whether that was outside the boundaries," Compton admits. That would be up to a judge to decide if rezone opponents, led by Kelly Meinig, can raise the roughly $30,000 necessary to appeal the council's decision to King County Superior Court. But the contacts and the possibility that donations were part of a coordinated strategy to circumvent political campaign laws are among the possible legal violations being examined by the Ethics and Elections Commission.
Some Colacurcio-related money poured in less than one week before the controversial June vote approving the parking-lot rezoning at Rick's, a Colacurcio-owned, nonalcoholic, full-nude dance club in Lake City. Contributors interviewed by Seattle Weekly said they merely wanted to promote good candidates, although many live outside Seattle. Rick's also is undergoing a $200,000 expansion, but City Council members claim they were ignorant of that before voting in favor of the parking-lot rezone. Burgess, who heads the Domain Group, which raises money for nonprofit organizations, cites Colacurcio's criminal and familial background as cause to return the donations. "In light of our city's history with the Colacurcio family and the widespread corruption that once prevailed here, and because of the events surrounding the rezone matter," wrote Burgess, "I request that you return all of the contributions you received from the Colacurcio family, their employees, and associates." Burgess, an ex-newsman and ex-cop who is a regular council campaign contributor himself, said returning the money "would help clear up the ambiguity and doubt that has arisen." Nicastro already had begun returning checks because they lacked complete donor information, such as employment status, as required by law. While Wills and Nicastro are young, freshman council members, "I'm most surprised and disappointed with Jim Compton," Burgess said in an interview. The former longtime television journalist chairs a committee that includes police oversight, and Burgess himself donated $650 to Compton for re-election. "He, of all people, should understand this stuff." RICK ANDERSON and GEORGE HOWLAND JR.