Ethics Commission Tosses Complaint Against Durkan Over Donations from Paul Allen, Microsoft

‘Standard of perfection’ not warranted, director says.

Seattle’s Ethics and Elections Commission voted Thursday to dismiss a complaint against Jenny Durkan stemming from donations made to Durkan by city contractors and people with lobbyists in City Hall.

Honest Elections Seattle, the ballot measure that created Democracy Vouchers, also created stricter rules surrounding donations by contractors and lobbyists. Candidates are not allowed to accept donations from entities that have paid lobbyists more than $5,000 in City Hall in the last year, or entities that have received $250,000 or more in city contracts in the last two years.

Several members of the committee that developed I-122 complained that Durkan accepted five donations that seemed to have violated these rules: She accepted $500 from Alfred Clise, Paul Allen, and Seattle Hospitality for Progress, all of whom are associated with companies that pay lobbyists. She also accepted $500 from Ash Grove Cement and Microsoft, both of whom the complainants claimed are city contractors.

“As members of the original committee that helped develop the initiative known as Honest Elections Seattle (I-122) that was overwhelmingly approved by Seattle voters, we are disappointed to see these violations of the law,” the members wrote.

However, Seattle Ethics and Election Commission executive director Wayne Barnett recommended dismissing the complaints, saying that they were either unfounded or that the law is unclear. Ash Grove, for example, actually is not a contractor, but received more than $250,000 in rebates from Seattle; Clise, meanwhile, is not a majority owner of Clise Properties, the company that hires the lobbyists that bring his donations into question. As for Allen and the hospitality PAC, Barnett says there is a contradiction in the law that makes it difficult to say for certain Allen and the PAC should be barred from donating.

The one case that was a clear violation was with Microsoft. The tech giant is a large city contractor, and thus should not be making contributions under I-122. Barnett, though, notes in a memo to commissioners that the Microsoft contribution amounted to a minuscule fraction of total donations to Durkan’s campaign, and that the campaign refunded the donation once the violation was brought to its attention by the Seattle Times.

“The public interest is not served by holding campaigns to a standard of perfection,” Barnett wrote.

The commission Thursday afternoon agreed, voting 6-0 to dismiss the complaint. Eileen Norton, chair of the committee, urged the committee to “clarify” the rules for future elections and determine what the intent of I-122 was regarding situations like Paul Allen’s contribution.

dperson@seattleweekly.com

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