In my absence there has been some speculation over my role in the shareholder lawsuit challenging former Safeco CEO Mike McGavick’s golden parachute. I suppose I should have clarified things the day the story broke, but my dog and daughter and I have been chasing birds in Long Beach the past couple days, mostly out of cell phone range, and entirely without Internet access but for brief morning visits to a local WiFi hotspot. (Long Beach Coffee has great java by the way… but rather spotty Internet service.)
Besides, there’s not really much to clarify, as Robert Mak pretty much got the sequence of events right in his Tuesday night report.
Here’s what I happened. A couple months ago I was talking to Knoll Lowney about his lawsuit overturning Initiative 747 when he mentioned the shareholder lawsuit he was working on. From the sounds of it he was fairly far along, and rather confident that he had a strong case that at least some of McGavick’s compensation package was illegal, which all sounded pretty good to me. I offered to help him find plaintiffs, and about a week later put up a short post on HA looking for pissed off SAFECO shareholders.
I got one firm response, Ashley Bullitt, and after a brief email exchange I passed her contact information on to Knoll. Her daughter Emma Schwartzman ultimately became the lead plaintiff in the case. Essentially, if not for me, Knoll likely would have ended up with a different plaintiff. (It’s not like pissed off SAFECO shareholders are all that scarce in Seattle.)
That’s pretty much the extent of my involvement. In fact, considering how little Internet access I’ve had the past few days, most of you probably know more about the details of this case than I do. I’d love to take more credit than I have, but truth be told, if Knoll had posted a notice on Craig’s List, he’d probably have gotten a bigger response than I did on HA.
Now, I understand that the McGavick campaign is trying to dismiss this lawsuit as nothing but dirty, partisan politics, and that my good friend Stefan over at (un)Sound Politics is pointing to my bit part as confirmation. But, well… unfortunately for the R’s, reality tends to be a tad more nuanced.
Was my role in this case politically motivated? Of course it was. Nearly everything I do is political. Hell, when I take a dump I wipe my ass with Dave Reichert’s franked mail. (It has less literary value than toilet paper, and is twice as plentiful.)
I’d have to be an idiot not to see the partisan, political value in what Knoll was doing, and that’s why I offered to help. Duh-uh.
But to conclude from that, as (u)SP’s Eric Earling does, that the entire lawsuit is baseless… well, that either shows a lack of critical thinking on his part… or a total lack of respect for his reader’s intelligence.
The facts of this scenario speak for themselves in showing not only is the lawsuit entirely political, but that it doesn’t have any merit even as simply a shareholder complaint.
Uh-huh. What a brilliant legal analysis. But then, that’s typical of (u)SP’s oeuvre, lazily hawking dismissiveness rather than relying on inconvenient things like facts or, um… thinking.
“The facts of this scenario” don’t speak to the merit of the lawsuit at all. In fact — and I know this might be a difficult concept for some of my rightie trolls to wrap their minds around without their heads exploding — it is absolutely possible for this lawsuit to be both politically motivated and entirely with legal merit.
I can’t speak for either Knoll or Emma, but it would surprise me if their involvement was entirely unmotivated by partisan politics. They’re suing a candidate for U.S. Senate for chrisakes. They’re not dumb; they know they’re shoving some bad publicity McGavick’s way. But I also believe that their outrage over McGavick’s golden parachute is as absolutely genuine as my own.
Legal or not, the fact is that McGavick’s golden parachute is an absolute disgrace, and at the very least presents the kind of perception of impropriety that simply should not be acceptable from our highest elected officials. And no, the fact that other executives have been similarly overcompensated at customer, employee and shareholder expense is not an excuse.
Further adding to the outrage is the fact that McGavick had already made millions at SAFECO, and had a generous termination package in place. By rewriting his termination agreement after he announced his voluntary retirement, handing McGavick many millions more than he was contractually due, SAFECO has potentially performed an end-run around our campaign finance laws, indirectly dumping truckloads of cash into this Senate race via McGavick’s own unlimited, personal contributions.
This is just plain wrong, and deserves public attention for moral and ethical reasons alone. But Knoll believes it is also illegal, and considering his legal track record, Knoll’s opinion is good enough for me. Yes, Knoll has a reputation for working on behalf of liberal causes, but remember, both he and Steve Berman are sinking their own money and resources into this case, and they don’t make a dime unless they win. Bloggers like me may be foolish enough to work for free, but lawyering is a business.
As for Emma, anybody who simply dismisses her as a political hack isn’t paying close attention. Her involvement isn’t just about politics, and it certainly isn’t about the money. It’s about respect for an institution in which generations of Bullitts obviously take great pride.
Emma inherited fewer than 50 shares of SAFECO stock, but as she makes a point of stating, these are “original” shares, passed down through generations from her great, great grandfather, a SAFECO founder. Monetarily, the shares are a pittance. But to Emma and her relatives they are a family heirloom… a proud connection to their family’s role in building Seattle into the great city it is today.
That Emma views SAFECO as something more than the sum of its market valuation might be hard for some people to understand, but she is clearly proud to be part of a family that has played a historic role in Seattle’s business and philanthropic community. Emma may not have inherited Bullitt family millions, but she’s certainly inherited her family’s acute sense of social justice.
But that said, all this speculation over the motivations of Knoll or Emma or myself misses the point. McGavick’s golden parachute was improper, if not downright illegal, and since none of the facts in the case are really in dispute, responsible reporting would focus on getting some expert legal opinion to analyze the points of law in dispute. Who cares if my primary motivation was to stick it to McGavick if in fact he and SAFECO broke the law or in some other way violated the trust of shareholders?
McGavick is, after all, running for U.S. Senate, and thus voters have a right to know if he is beyond reproach, or merely straddling its edge. And unlike the state Dems, Knoll didn’t just issue a hotly worded press release… he laid out all the facts and arguments in a legal document that will win or lose on its own merits. Indeed, if there is to be a shareholder lawsuit, the time for it to be filed is now, before the election, so that voters can learn the truth. In that sense, political motivation is a good thing.
Oh, and one final comment on the R’s feigned outrage over this lawsuit: gimme a fucking break.
McGavick’s midlife conversion to “civility” is a joke to anybody who remembers the vicious campaign he ran on behalf of Slade Gorton, and absolutely absurd coming from the party of Karl Rove. Accusations of dirty politics? This coming from the party that swift-boats war heros and slanders multiple amputee veterans as traitors and cowards?
This isn’t dirty. This is just a lawsuit. And whatever its motivation, the facts do indeed speak for themselves.