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Formal ethics complaint filed against Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant

A formal ethics complaint alleges Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant violated the city’s ethics code and state public records law.

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission acknowledges it has received a formal ethics complaint against Councilmember Kshama Sawant, alleging she misappropriated government resources for her private political organization.

Logan Bowers, who is running against Sawant for the District 3 seat, said he filed the complaint because “I think that ethical governance is critical to our democracy.”

However, Bowers is largely basing his argument and another claim that Sawant has violated public records law on the reporting of SCCInsight.com.

The blog is run by longtime Microsoft engineer and researcher Kevin Schofield. He reported back in January about records which claim to show Sawant was using city resources for the private, members-only Socialist Alternative.

“(She) has handed over her Council responsibilities to Socialist Alternative – including deciding how to vote on items before the Council, and even the hiring and firing of government employees working in her office in City Hall. Beyond the fact that she has never disclosed to her constituents in District 3 that she has ceded these duties to Socialist Alternative, having done so likely violates several provisions of the city’s Ethics Code for government officials,” Schofield wrote.

“From beginning to end it was about three months worth of work, started with an anonymous source,” Schofield said Thursday. “They don't publish anything about their finances, don't publish anything about who their leadership or their organization is, it's this very closed organization that controls one of nine city council members.”

Schofield started following the Seattle City Council after his Microsoft career ended and found Sawant’s particular case unusual.

“I think it's different from our expectations for elected officials in general,” he said.

Sawant did not answer a request for comment on the complaint’s filing.

Wayne Barnett, who runs the Ethics and Elections office, acknowledged getting the complaint this week and said it could take weeks or months to determine an outcome.

Sawant previously wrote a lengthy response to SCC Insight’s original reporting and made no apologies.

“I plead guilty – to being a democratically accountable socialist elected representative, and not a corporate politician,” Sawant wrote.

“These articles insinuate that my votes reflect some sort of puppetry. In fact, I am an elected leader of Socialist Alternative who agrees with, and has argued for within our democratic structures, the political decisions and votes I have taken while in office. The allegations of ethics violations are similarly utterly baseless. The real issue the political establishment has is that my accountability is to working people and social movements, instead of to the corporate agenda,” the statement continued.

Bowers, however, believes the problem is much bigger than that and also includes SCC Insight’s finding that Sawant’s staffers use Google Drives and Gmail accounts to avoid public disclosure requests as well. He also says all of that has happened as the homelessness and housing divide has grown bigger in Seattle.

“I think the record speaks for itself - she has presided over the worst crisis in homelessness and housing affordability in at least the last 100 years in Seattle,” Bowers said.

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Bowers is an engineer by trade and an entrepreneur. He and his wife started Hashtag Cannabis and said he employs about 30 people. As of Thursday, Bowers has raised more than $20,000 for his campaign, the most of any Sawant challenger. He says he’s also qualified for democracy vouchers.

Sawant has raised more than $45,000, according to city records, and is not using democracy vouchers for the 2019 election. Sawant is one of three sitting councilmembers to seek re-election.

Councilmembers Rob Johnson, Sally Bagshaw, Bruce Harrell, and Mike O’Brien are not seeking another term on Seattle City Council.