Wayne Barnett had only seen one recall effort in Seattle during his 15 years as executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC). Now he's having to brush up on the rules around recalls.
Currently, there are two recall efforts happening in Seattle. The Recall Durkan campaign, which was announced back in July, argues that the mayor did not do enough to stop police brutality this summer. That effort has made it through one court and is now battling out an appeal in the Washington Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the Recall Sawant petition, which filed by District 3 resident Ernie Lou and announced last week, regurgitates several of the same points Durkan made in a letter to the Seattle City Council urging them to "investigate" Sawant's actions earlier this summer.
"We're treading new ground this year," Barnett said of all these recalls.
Recalls are complicated because they're rare. The last mayoral recall in Seattle was in 1975, and that didn't make it through the courts. The last mayor to get recalled was in 1931. There was a successful recall in Spokane in 2005, and another one in Pacific, Washington in 2013. The only recall attempt that Barnett remembers during his time at the SEEC was the failed 2011 recall attempt of then-Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin.
"They're like a Venn diagram of a legal case and a political campaign," said Grace Harvey, who chairs the Recall Durkan campaign. That means the campaigns will need to disclose their finances to Barnett and the SEEC as well as with Washington's Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), even if they fail to get through the courts.
The Recall Durkan campaign has already started reporting its finances. So far, their organizers have raised a total of $3,100 from 41 individual donors.
As the campaign is still in its infancy, Recall Sawant has not yet filed with the SEEC nor the PDC. However, in the press release announcing the recall effort, Lou said the campaign had already raised over $15,000. The release also encouraged donors to give $25 or less to the campaign. If all of those initial contributions came in at $25 and under, that means the campaign may have received a minimum of 600 donations in a matter of days.
But why ask for $25 or less in donations in the first place?
Well, it could be two things, Harvey mused. Under disclosure rules, only donations above $25 require donors to give their names, addresses, and employer information. Campaigns often pay for special software to keep track of the personal information they collect from donors, so Recall Sawant might be trying to avoid that cost. But anonymity might also appeal to them.
"Instinctively, if I were going to ask for only up to $25, I would be targeting an audience that wouldn’t necessarily want it to be known that they were donating to this campaign," Harvey said. Harvey described the situation as "people disagreeing with their neighbors and not wanting their names attached."
Only District 3 residents will be eligible to sign the recall petition and—assuming the campaign gathers enough signatures—vote in an eventual recall. Anyone can donate to the cause, though.
Harvey called the Sawant Recall controversial. The Durkan one? Not so much. "Even conservatives are very enthusiastic about getting rid of [Durkan]...Everyone hates her is the consensus, except for maybe Jeff Bezos," said Leah Solomon, Recall Durkan's treasurer.
Lou told Jason Rantz he's already lost a job with Three Dollar Bill Cinema for apparently spearheading the Sawant recall. In a statement, the Three Dollar Bill Cinema called this portrayal which was originally reported by KUOW an "inaccurate media story." They say Lou's "departure" wasn't connected to the recall, and added that he "was hired as a short-term contractor to help us fundraise during these challenging times."
After multiple attempts to reach Lou and the Recall Sawant campaign, I finally got him on the phone for about five minutes on Monday. When I asked if he could talk he said he was "tied up in something," though he confirmed he stands by the story he told Rantz. Despite the recent controversy with film festival, he said he was still involved with the Recall Sawant campaign.
Lou said he has people working on filing with the SEEC. So, maybe we'll see where that $15,000 is coming from—unless they all donated $25 or less.