Defending Mayor Ed Murray’s crusade to rein in the scourge of electioneering, his spokesperson says that his proposed ordinance is merely intended to remove “confusion” over what political activity is or is not prohibited:
When asked about the bill’s connection to Sawant, a spokesman for the mayor said, “There seems to be some confusion over whether or not political activity related to official events organized by city staff is currently prohibited.”
“There certainly won’t be any confusion after this new language is adopted,” added the spokesman, Jason Kelly.
Uh-huh. Except, here’s the new language that’s being proposed:
No elected official, nor the official’s agent, shall engage in campaign activities at, or adjacent to, any official city public event that is organized by that elected official or any employee of the official’s office. The campaign activities may not occur during the event or at any time that attendees of the public event are present.
The glaring problem with this language is that it defines neither “official’s agent” nor “campaign activities”—and neither does section 2.04.300 of the municipal code that it amends. (Or “adjacent to,” for that matter.) Who exactly qualifies under the law as an “agent” of an elected official? I dunno. What exactly is a “campaign activity?” Beats me. If a Sawant supporter, on her own initiative were to pass out a Sawant campaign flyer on the steps of City Hall at a Sawant organized public forum, would that make Sawant legally liable for her actions? I guess that’s up to the courts to decide.
So much for removing any confusion.
Essentially, this ordinance bars Council member Sawant and her office from organizing any “official city public event” by attempting to make her legally liable for any action taken by one of her “agents” (whatever that means). And it pretty much only applies to Sawant, because she’s the only elected official who can claim any sort of meaningful grassroots support—a base that is at times unruly, undisciplined, and not under anybody’s direct control. Because grassroots!
I mean, seriously, if Sally Bagshaw were to organize a forum, do you really think she’d have to worry about overly-enthusiastic supporters showing up and violating section 2.04.300? I don’t think so.
Only Sawant needs to worry about involuntarily violating this ordinance because only Sawant has a large base of supporters enthusiastic enough to actually show up.
I’m not an attorney, but both the vagueness and broadness of this ordinance strikes me as unenforceable… though that doesn’t mean they can’t create a legal nightmare for Sawant in the process of trying. At the very least, this ordinance would produce an endless parade of bogus ethics complaints. At the very worst, it could ultimately prompt a legal challenge seeking to overturn Sawant’s reelection under section 2.04.500:
If the court finds that the violation of any provision of this chapter by any candidate or political committee probably affected the outcome of any election, the result of the election may be held void and a special election held within 60 days of such finding.
Unintended consequences? Maybe not.*
* Full disclosure: I enthusiastically support Sawant. I mean, like duh-uh.