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Bruce Harrell’s campaign may be in some hot water following allegations that they essentially bought the 37th District Dems endorsements for both him and Pamela Banks.
An SEEC complaint alleges that, before the deadline to become a voting member of the organization in time for endorsements, 15 new memberships were paid for in one batch, with sequential money orders purchased at the same location.
It gets sketchier: These new memberships came on the heels of the Harrell campaign calling and asking if it would be OK for them to pay for new memberships (they were told it was not).
After this group of new members showed up and voted, Harrell and Banks — both of whom didn’t get enough votes in the primary endorsements to actually gain the 37th Dems’ endorsement — were both endorsed publicly. But some weren’t convinced they were acting independently.
Just after the vote, it was determined that at least five of the new members shouldn’t have been permitted to vote at all, because, per the 37th Dems themselves, they didn’t even live in the 37th LD. And although there’s no way of knowing exactly who voted for whom, what was clear was that Harrell passed the 60% voting margin required (Morales received 30 votes, Harrell received 72, per the 37th’s Tweeting of the votes), and Banks received the exact number of necessary votes. A motion to recount was filed, but it did not stand.
A few days ago, Erica C. Barnett reported that the endorsement for Banks was possibly being challenged due to the issue of residency by some of the voting members. The basis of the challenge is that, without those votes, Banks may not have received the endorsement; in the past, the 37th haven’t shown a ton of support for status-quo candidates like Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell, or, now, Pamela Banks.
(Banks is the only Democrat in the D3 race, so she’s the only candidate eligible for endorsement; this doesn’t mean they had to endorse Banks. The 43rd chose to vote “no endorsement,” effectively endorsing retaining Sawant. A not-small number of the 37th wanted to vote for a no-endorsement, but were reportedly “shouted down” when given their chance to speak.)
However, in part because of these new members, the 37th did endorse both Banks and Harrell, and chose not to rescind those endorsements, even though they may not have truly had the votes.
The SEEC complaint alleges that not only were the memberships invalid due to the place of residence of the voters, but that they were actually paid for by Bruce Harrell’s campaign, which is illegal.
The complaint, filed by 37th Dems board member Pamela Keeley with Jonathan Rosenblum, is dated September 30, just a few days after the endorsement meeting.
Meanwhile, in a statement, 37th Dems president Rory O’Sullivan notes that they failed to report that bundle of 15 memberships—which technically count as campaign donations—to the Seattle Ethics & Elections Commission. He takes “full responsibility” for the error and for “any campaign violation” stemming from the new memberships.
From the complaint (it’s long, but it describes the allegation pretty accurately):
On information and belief:
1. Before the meeting it was known to all candidates that endorsements would be made or voted upon, and that the group’s rules prescribe that one who is not already a “Precinct Committee Officer” or a member can only attend the meeting and vote on endorsements by becoming a member 25 days before the meeting, i.e. by August 27, 2015, paying dues and also one must reside in the 37th LD.
2. On August 27, 2015, someone called O’Sullivan and said he was speaking for the Bruce Harrell campaign.
3. This person asked if the campaign could purchase memberships for other persons. After checking with Treasurer Legault, Chair O’Sullivan told this person no, that would be illegal.
4. On August 27, 2015, within two hours of the earlier call to O’Sullivan, someone called Legault saying there were people who wanted to be members with no bank accounts or credit cards, can I bring money orders. This person refused to identify himself to Legault. She thought this was odd or unusual. She said money orders would work, also persons could pay with cash but that she would need other info, such as name, residence address and their signature to report the membership dues paid as contributions to SEEC.
5. An hour and a half later he called again saying he would be there shortly and at about 10:30 pm he arrived by car at Legault’s home in Beacon Hill. He again declined to identify himself although she asked him if he had a card. He gave her 15 membership forms and 15 money orders for 15 membership dues payments. The forms given said the 15 were all employees of East Side for Hire.
6. The money orders were numbered in sequence at the same bank. The money orders were bought at Fred Meyer Store no. 459, which is in Renton.
7. Legault apparently has reported this as a potential bundle of contributions to SEEC. In addition, she felt that these facts were unusual – the lack of identification, the short time between the first call to O’Sullivan and arrival of money orders, the fact that someone would pay charges for money orders when cash was acceptable, that the money orders were on the same bank and in sequence.
8. O’Sullivan called some of the persons indicated on the membership forms and one person he called told him that his “boss” said to him, “you live in the 37th district, I want you to join as a member.” For a “boss” to direct or compel political activity or contributions by employees – is a serious matter.
9. After receiving the money orders and forms, Legault noted 5 of the person’s addresses stated on the forms were outside the boundaries of the 37th District. This meant they were ineligible to be voting members. She e mailed and called the 5 persons leaving messages, to tell them they could not become voting members, and asking would they like to become members of the district in which they resided, in which case she could refund them and or forward their payment to another district, but none of them responded to her messages or e mails. This was unusual. Hearing no response, she returned those membership contributions.
10. About ten of the East Side for Hire employees, for whom membership forms and dues were given on Aug. 27th, attended the endorsement meeting, arriving largely in a group and leaving in a group. They wore Bruce Harrell tee shirts. During the meeting they stood closely together and acted like a group. They stood next to Bruce Harrell, who spoke with them often. Tim Burgess also stood by closely and he and Harrell spoke.
11. During the time when endorsement voting was taking place on those council members’ races, also the Banks-Sawant race, Harrell spoke directly to the group, and also to Burgess. Voting was by paper ballot and persons voting would hand the ballots to persons collecting ballots. When the person collecting ballots approached the group, to take their paper ballots, on two occasions (Banks-Sawant contest, and Burgess-Grant contest) some of them did not hand over their ballots; Harrell then spoke with them directly, whereupon they wrote on the ballots, and gave them to the ballot collector. This was while Harrell was close to them and Burgess was close to him. These interchanges took less than one minute and it appeared that he directed them in voting. He also spoke closely with them during the voting on the Harrell-Morales contest. After the voting was concluded for the endorsement in these three council contests, the East Side for Hire group left together with Bruce Harrell.
12. Harrell, Banks, and Burgess obtained the endorsements, with Banks and Burgess making the 60% threshold by a one vote margin. Each of these three candidates had failed to obtain the 37th District Democrats’ endorsements at the endorsement meetings before the primary election, by wide margins.
13. On information and belief, the coordinated purchase of memberships by a third party allowed the East Side for Hire group to become members, swinging the endorsement vote outcome, in favor of Banks and Burgess and against Sawant and Jon Grant.
14. East Side for Hire, is a business owned on information and belief by Abdul Yusuf and Samata Guled. East Side for Hire is interested in ongoing City Council action, involving a bill to give drivers collective bargaining rights. East Side for Hire and or its owners oppose this bill. I understand this Friday, tomorrow, the Council Finance and Culture Committee votes on the bill, which East Side for Hire and its owners are lobbying against. One concern is that the bundling of memberships, apparently in exchange for voting a certain way in three council endorsement votes, was done in order to influence or induce or favor-trade with council members to oppose the bill (or to obtain other political results).
Eastside for Hire’s owners have a vested interest in both voting Sawant out of council; Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s proposal to allow drivers collective bargaining rights has her support in a big way.
Additionally, while Harrell has often sided with Sawant on behalf of cabs (in The Great Cab v. Uber Fight of 20Forever), his position on the committee about cabs and for-hire ride services makes him a potentially important ally with further legislation.
It’s also no secret that Bruce Harrell likes Pamela Banks, has no love for Kshama Sawant, and would love to see a new face representing District 3.
But does that mean that his campaign would try to buy a coveted endorsement that carries a lot of weight in the city?
^^These contributions were filed by the 37th on 10/01. They aren’t necessarily those from the money orders, but they were all filed on the day before the complaint was filed and in a group, which is not in and of itself uncommon. Abdul Yusuf, who is named as the person who delivered the 15 memberships and payments, is not listed as a donor on the SEEC’s website at any point since 2013.
Keeley said that immediately following the vote, she and several other members of the 37th had questions, but that she was surprised by the reaction from many members of the 37th Dems, who were, she thought, actively attempting to quell any mention of potential impropriety.
“I was out-voted, as were other people, and the decision was made not to rescind any endorsements.”
While she admits that she is “not an expert in SEEC or PDC laws,” Keeley noted that she wanted to at least ensure that the behavior displayed, as well as the endorsements, were as above-board as possible. Keeley says she filed the complaint not because she’s even sure that anything nefarious occurred, but because of the unwillingness within the organization to even examine the proceedings.
“If we don’t have our credibility, what good is it making endorsements?” asked Keeley over the phone this week. “It doesn’t mean anything happened, but we don’t know what happened until we look at things. And if we’re going to put our endorsements out as they were decided that night, I don’t feel comfortable with that.”
A representative from Harrell’s camp called the complaint “factually baseless as demonstrated by the…declarations and admissions and apologies from Rory O’Sullivan, 37th Chair,” wherein O’Sullivan and the 37th essentially took the blame upon themselves.
However, the 37th’s admission/apology doesn’t a.) change the fact that Banks may not have had the votes without the new members (they admit that the Banks endorsement was decided by fewer than three votes but are adamant that they will not be rescinding any endorsements), and b.) exactly address the issue of how the new members were added, or how they managed to vote in the first place if they were not technically “in good standing” i.e. residents of the 37th.
Harrell’s representative went on to say that “the parties who joined the 37th district were not affiliated with the Harrell, Burgess or Banks campaigns,” though…that’s kind of exactly what the SEEC is supposed to be looking into and also would be pretty hard to identify.
Still, Harrell’s people seemed confident that the complaint would be promptly taken care of without anything further.
“The SEEC has been notified and we expect the complaint to be dismissed in the very near future,” said Harrell’s rep.
We also contacted Wayne Barnett of the SEEC, but he told us (unsurprisingly) that he couldn’t comment on a current complaint.
Regardless of what happens with this SEEC complaint—which, if it’s NOT dismissed, as Harrell’s campaign thinks it will be, could have potential ramifications for both the 37th as an organization and for the Harrell and Banks campaigns—it’s clear from the experiences of members of the 37th that this is an extremely divisive race, and that there are a lot of strong feelings about who the organization should stand behind.
“It’s become extremely mean. There’s so much meanness right now,” said Keeley. “Even supporting someone that someone else doesn’t seems to be grounds for character assassination.”