Guilty, guilty, guilty

Last week, the city of Seattle paid a $5,000 fine for organizing an illegal citizen lobbying effort.

That’s OK; we can afford it. But behind this $5,000 rebuke from the state’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) lies a million-dollar question: Why didn’t the city (and King County, in a related case) just admit wrongdoing and pay the dang fine, say, a year ago?

Here’s the legal situation: State law allows cities and counties to directly lobby other levels of government but not to fund so-called “citizen” lobbying efforts. Local governments can inform residents about political issues but must stop short of a “call to action,” a PDC representative told city officials in 1998.

And here are the potential violations: King County sent out 20,000 invitations to a pro-transportation rally in Olympia. Does that constitute a call to action? Of course it does.

In the Seattle case, the Pro Parks Committee was formed by the city to consider new parks-funding measures. The major part of that group’s work was studying, critiquing, and lobbying for a proposed new state tax law. The committee was aided by city staff and met in city buildings. Is this a violation of the statute? Yes, obviously.

But then came the whining. City officials, including the mayor and council president, claimed that the law was vague and the state’s enforcement unfair. A high-priced downtown lawyer was hired and an aggressive attitude adopted, to the point where said lawyer ended up launching personal attacks against the citizen activist who filed the complaint rather than arguing his case (a dumb move, because activist Chris Leman provided the PDC with reams of evidence—all legally obtained from city files).

At least the fact that the case has been settled means the city has gotten a little smarter. With more outside legal support (from a less abrasive attorney), the city fessed up and will now pay up. Still, it’s hard to figure out why city officials, after needlessly delaying this process for more than a year, suddenly decided to accept reality.

Leman has his own theory: It’s an election year, and they “didn’t want a situation where both the mayor and the city attorney were defending a position in which the city would clearly be found guilty.”

At last, an argument that makes some sense.

jbush@seattleweekly.com

More in News & Comment

Federal Way resident Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens, 17, died Jan. 27, 2017. Courtesy photo
Law enforcement challenges report on sting operation that killed Federal Way teen

King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight’s findings rattle Sheriff’s Office, police union.

Unstable housing? Apply for Section 8

Applications open in February for housing vouchers

In 2018, the city of Seattle approved and then repealed a head tax within a month. It would have levied a $275 per employee tax on businesses grossing more than $20 million annually. Sound Publishing file photo
County head tax bill passes committee

Bill would let King County levy a tax on businesses to fund housing and address homelessness.

Gov. Jay Inslee signs the first bill of the 2020 legislative session into law. On the right stands the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who is wearing a red tie. Photo by Cameron Sheppard, WNPA News Service
Gov. Inslee signs tax bill to help fund higher education

Law shifts a portion of the tax burden to large tech companies.

King County Metro’s battery-electric bus. Photo courtesy of kingcounty.gov
King County Metro bus fleet will be electrified by 2035

Future base in South King County would house hundreds of the zero-emission vehicles.

Three-quarters of the suicide deaths among children ages 10 to 14 are caused by firearms, according to a new report from the Firearm Injury and Policy Research Program at the University of Washington. File photo
King County studies youth gun violence amid rising suicides

It’s unclear what’s driving the trend.

Bonsai burglary: trees worth thousands stolen from Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way

The two bonsai, a Silverberry and a Japanese Black Pine, were stolen from the secured public exhibit area early Sunday morning.

A King County work crew clears a road near Preston on Feb. 7, 2020. Heavy rains appear to have caused multiple landslides along the road. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
The future could look a lot like this year’s flood season

Climate change is expected to lead to more winter flooding in King County.

High tides, as seen in this file photo of Raymond’s Willapa Landing Park in Pacific County, could become the norm in the future due to sea level rise. Sound Publishing file photo
UW summarizes Washington climate impact on water

The report localizes information from the United Nations.

Most Read