District 3 challenger files ethics complaint against Sawant

Bowers alleges misuse of public funds, public records violations stemming from councilmember's coordination with Socialist Alternative party

District 3 challenger files ethics complaint against Sawant

District 3 challenger files ethics complaint against Sawant

Seattle City Council District 3 candidate Logan Bowers has filed an ethics complaint against incumbent Councilmember Kshama Sawant based on an SCC Insight article regarding her working relationship with the Socialist Alternative party.

The complaint filed on March 4 with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission stems from internal documents SCC Insight obtained from Socialist Alternative, which the news site claims show that Sawant’s office is run by the political party in which she is a member and also controls how she votes on issues before the city council.

“While I expect that these apparent violations of city and State law will ultimately be adjudicated at the ballot box,” Bowers writes in his complaint, “I believe for the health our democratic institutions the voters of District 3 and Seattle deserve to know definitively the extent and legality of Councilmember Sawant’s actions during her tenure in office.”

Bowers alleges Sawant violated the Seattle Ethics Code by permitting the use of city funds and personnel by Socialist Alternative, citing a letter regarding issues related to SA’s Seattle organization written by members Tony Wilsdon and Jeremy Prickett obtained and released by SCC Insight, which calls for greater collaboration between the council office and Socialist Alternative’s Seattle branches.

“The council office is a critical political asset and organizing tool that belongs to the Seattle branches, and to the national organization,” a portion of that undated letter reads. “The work we have done through our council position (such as $15/hour, the Stepping Forward victory, Carl Haglund law, winning $29M for affordable housing in Build 1,000 Homes) have been key in raising SA's profile, and helped us begin to sink roots, among working class communities, particularly those most active in movements.”

Sawant responded to this letter in October 2017.

“I completely reject the idea that the Council Office is failing — in any way — to communicate to the SEC [Seattle Executive Committee], or to be accountable to the SEC and the organization. As SEC comrades should be able to admit, Council comrades take great pains to include and consult the full SEC,” a portion of the letter reads. “We err on the side of taking political questions to the SEC. There have been many instances when I have personally insisted that Council comrades send advance notice to the SEC to make all leading members aware of a given political situation. But realistically, we cannot always inform the SEC of every detail or involve comrades on every question.”

Sawant responded to the SCC Insight article in a Jan. 10 blog post to her council website, confirming Socialist Alternative, which she helped build and lead, “has been the driving force behind my election campaigns” and “progressive gains” made in Seattle, such as the $15 minimum wage.

“I have made no secret of the fact that I was running as a candidate of Socialist Alternative, which has a proud tradition of democratic decision making and is made up of ordinary people fighting for workers and oppressed communities,” a portion of the blog post reads. “We are nothing like the Democratic and Republican parties, who pretend to be accountable to working people but who are in reality politically dominated and funded by the super rich and big corporations like Amazon and Comcast.”

Bowers’ complaint goes on to allege that Socialist Alternative’s executive committee was responsible for the termination of part-time staffer Whitney Kahn within Sawant’s council office.

SCC Insight published a letter from the executive committee to the national committee regarding Seattle Socialist Alternative staff in its Jan. 7 report.

“As was agreed by the IEC [International Executive Committee] resolution endorsed overwhelmingly by the NC, the national EC is responsible for making decisions about council staff in consultation with Kshama,” a portion of that letter reads. “Adam Z [Ziemkowski] who manages the office proposed to the EC that Whitney (James K) not continue as a council staff part-timer. The EC and comrades leading the work in Seattle felt Whitney should not be one of the five staff focused on the local work of the branches in Seattle.”

Bowers also alleges Sawant violated the state’s Public Records Act, stating in the complaint that requests for documents regarding Kahn’s employment “resulted in zero documents produced by Councilmember Sawant’s office.”

“A bulletin written by a subset of the Executive Committee of the Socialist Alternative party references the existence of documents regarding the conduct and termination of Whitney Kahn, stored in a ‘Google folder,’” Bowers’ complaint states.

The District 3 candidate accuses Sawant of conducting city business using third-party communications services and deliberately concealing documents from public records requests. “Violations of this type are a class B felony per RCW40.16.020,” Bowers writes.

MPT has reached out to Sawant’s office about the ethics complaint, but has not yet received a response from the councilmember or staff.

Bowers tells MPT he pored over the documents released by SCC Insight before deciding to file the complaint, which he hopes the city will investigate, or possibly the Washington State Attorney General’s Office or King County Prosecutor’s Office due to allegations of a possible felony offense.

“The first rule of government is to only use government resources to act in the interest of the people and not for political gain,” Bowers said, “and it appears she has violated that rule.”

The District 3 candidate said he does not expect any political backlash from his ethics complaint, considering its filing coincides with the 2019 council election where Sawant is facing three other challengers.

Bowers lauded SCC Insight writer and editor Kevin Schofield for his reporting, and now he wants legal authorities to do a more thorough analysis of records related to Sawant and Socialist Alternative’s influence over her office.

“I think Seattle owes him a debt of gratitude for shining light on this issue,” Bowers said.