Seattle’s Kshama Sawant charged with violating city law by using council office to promote ‘Tax Amazon’ initiative

Faced Tuesday with charges that she violated Seattle laws by using her public office to promote a potential “Tax Amazon” ballot measure, City Councilmember Kshama Sawant vowed to push ahead with a multipronged attempt to pass a new tax on large corporations to support affordable housing.

Sawant has pledged to propose tax legislation for council consideration and has been trying to build support for a ballot measure for voters at the same time.

“My council office has been preparing legislation to tax Amazon and big business,” Sawant said in a statement Tuesday responding to the charges brought by the executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC), Wayne Barnett. “I will be unveiling the outline of this legislation tomorrow.”

Barnett filed the charges Monday and scheduled a March 4 hearing with the SEEC, the appointed group that administers and enforces Seattle’s ethics and elections laws.

The allegations say Sawant broke two laws when her office posted links from her official council website to materials related to the “Tax Amazon” campaign that’s been gearing up to collect signatures and that she’s been helping to lead: an elections law that prohibits the use of city facilities to promote ballot measures; and an ethics law that prohibits the use of city resources for non-city purposes.

In her statement, Sawant described the matter as a misunderstanding and said her office has changed its operations to ensure compliance moving ahead.

“I look forward to meeting with the commission to resolve this matter,” she said.

But the council member also denounced the charges.

“I’m disappointed to see this complaint filed against my office and our movement,” Sawant said. “It’s shameful that while big business has license to run amok trying to bully or buy politicians … working people have to follow the most onerous of restrictions.”

Seattle City Council Insight first wrote about the SEEC allegations against Sawant.

In the charges, Barnett cited three links that appeared on Sawant’s website:

• A link to a Facebook page promoting a Jan. 25 “Tax Amazon Action Conference.” The page included the message: “Our immediate task is to file a grassroots ballot initiative this February so that we can begin collecting signatures,” and it listed Sawant as a host of the conference.

• A link to a “Resolution to Tax Amazon and Big Business” considered at the Jan. 25 conference. The resolution stated, “We will need to collect 22,000 valid signatures (likely 30,000+) of registered Seattle voters by late May in order to guarantee a spot on the November ballot,” and it listed Sawant as a coordinating committee member.

A link to a poster for a Feb. 9 “Tax Amazon Action Conference.” The poster included the logo for Sawant’s office and the message, “Join us at our second grassroots conference: vote on a ballot initiative to put forward in 2020, and get organized to win!”

If the SEEC determines Sawant committed ethics and elections violations, it could fine her up to $5,000 per violation, Barnett said in an email.

Since winning a third term in November, Sawant has been calling for a tax on large corporations to raise money for housing and “Green New Deal” programs. Meanwhile, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would authorize King County to tax compensation paid by big businesses to employees making at least $150,000 a year.

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