Freedom Foundation targets councilmember with lawsuit

AG’s office files charges against SEIU
By Brian Soergel | Jul 20, 2017

Edmonds City Councilmember Mike Nelson finds himself part of a lawsuit after the state attorney general’s office filed charges July 11 against Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Leadership Council 14. Nelson is the executive director.

The office received a citizen action notice from the Freedom Foundation alleging multiple violations of the state’s public disclosure laws in April 2017.

The charge, which does not name Nelson, alleges that Council 14 failed to register and report as a political committee to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission. In addition, the charge claims SEIU failed to identify a treasurer for the political committee, and failed to identify a depository for funds collected by the political committee. All are required by law.

The suit alleges Council 14 operated as a political committee in 2014 and 2016 – both election years – and failed to report at least $4 million in receipts and nearly $4.7 million in expenditures.

“This suit was initiated by a complaint from the Freedom Foundation, an extremist organization whose sole purpose is to destroy labor unions and worker protections,” Nelson told the Beacon.

“This year alone, it and people affiliated with it have filed over 120 similar citizen action notices against unions, nonprofit organizations and progressive candidates. The lawsuit is based on a technical violation of the law. While my employer did not register with the PDC as a political committee, it nonetheless reported to the PDC all of its political-related expenditures. My employer intends to cooperate fully with the attorney general in addressing these allegations of technical violations.”

Jamie Lund, Freedom Foundation senior policy analyst, said, “It looks like (Nelson’s) trying to sidestep the issue. The lawsuit is coming from the attorney general, who is a Democrat, a beneficiary of union contributions and very supportive of labor movement. It seems unlikely he is union-busting. There are great sums of money unreported; it’s systematic violations that rise to a lawsuit.”

According to a news release on the suit, Attorney General Bob Ferguson has recused himself from any involvement in the suit.

Nelson said he could not go into extended details, on advice of attorneys, but he did say the same group targeted him when he was appointed to City Council in 2015 to take the place of Strom Peterson, who won a seat on the Legislature.

There was a concern that Nelson’s union ties would be a conflict of interest. The city has an agreement with Service Employees International Union, Local 925, that expires at the end of this year. It covers all of the city’s regular full-time and part-time clerical, professional and technical employees scheduled to work 20 or more hours per week. All are required to pay dues.

Nelson said he will continue to recuse himself for any matters pertaining to SEIU Local 925.

“I have always and will continue to maintain a separation from this statewide work and my job representing the citizens of Edmonds,” Nelson said. “It is no secret I work for an organization (SEIU) that helped increase the state minimum wage and paid leave, makes healthcare affordable, legalized gay marriage, protects our environment and ensures responsible gun ownership, just to name a few.

“I am proud of the work we do, and I have no issue that this is not reported in our local media, because like this story, they are not relevant to my City Council work.”

It's no secret that Nelson has strong union ties. He was the lone dissenter on a City Council vote late last year to renew a contract with Fire District 1, which serves Edmonds, that saved the city $1.3 million. After the vote, Nelson walked out of the meeting in protest, in solidarity with a large group of firefighters who had packed City Hall.

Likewise, it’s no secret that the Freedom Foundation has a distaste for unions.

“Most Americans don't like being told what to do,” according to the organization’s website. “Yet many government employees are forced, as a condition of working, to pay dues to union organizations. These union monopolies overcharge workers and spend huge sums of money on political campaigns and lobbying. And, since union power comes from government, union lobbyists always push for bigger and more powerful government.”

In the past two years, the Freedom Foundation has seen seven of its complaints lead to actions or penalties against “government unions and their allies,” according to a press release the organization released this week.

On Monday, the attorney general’s office reported that the Washington Budget and Policy Center would pay $30,545 in fines and penalties for violating state campaign finance laws.

“Yet another of the Freedom Foundation’s investigations has flushed out a labor-affiliated organization actively engaged in a scheme to hide the extent of its political activity,” the foundation said in the release.


Comments (1)
Posted by: Nancy Louise Jacob | Jul 25, 2017 11:32

Dear Editor:

I read with interest the story about Edmonds City Councilman, Mike Nelson, and how the union he manages is being prosecuted by the State Attorney General.

If the Attorney General's allegation that his organization concealed "$4 million in receipts and nearly $4.7 million in expenditures" is true, I can't believe Mr. Nelson's response.  He claims he is the victim of targeting and that this is only a "technical violation."    To my knowledge, the State Attorney General does not target unions, and the dollar amount of unreported money seems far more significant than a mere technical violation.

Further, Mr. Nelson is quoted implying that he has no conflict of interest with his City Council work because the maintains a clear separation between his union affiliation and his role on the City Council.  Yet, your article cites that he walked out of a City Council meeting in protest and solidarity with local firefighters after he lost a vote as the lone dissenter in the Council's contract renewal decision with respect to these same firefighters.  Just what kind of separation is he maintaining?  And, how can he say that the state prosecution for what amounts to concealed union political contributions is "not relevant to my City Council work."?

I certainly hope that someone in Edmonds will step forward this fall actively to oppose Mr. Nelson in his first attempt at getting elected to the Council.

If you wish to comment, please login.