BY ESTELLE DEBATES
SEATTLE - Thirty-five people attended an October 25 meeting here to protest the City of Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission's (SEEC) attempt to impose a fine of $6,040 on the Socialist Workers 1997 Campaign Committee and Jeff Powers, the campaign treasurer. The meeting was sponsored by the Militant Labor Forum. The SEEC is demanding that the Socialist Workers Campaign Committee turn over the names, addresses, and employers of its financial contributors, and the names and addresses of vendors who supplied goods and services to the Socialist Workers candidates' election campaign.
Powers chaired the protest meeting, and Scott Breen, the Socialist Workers candidate for mayor of Seattle this year, was the featured speaker. "The city government is acting on behalf of the wealthy who rule Seattle," said Breen, who is a member of the International Association of Machinists union and is employed by The Boeing Company. Breen called the fine that the SEEC seeks to impose "outrageous" and noted it is three times the total amount of money raised by the Socialist Workers 1997 Campaign.
In rulings made on September 10 and October 8 of this year, the SEEC denied the socialists the same right to a disclosure exemption that they have fought for and won in federal and Supreme Court decisions and from the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission. These exemptions were won on the basis of a proven record of harassment and intimidation of members and supporters of the Socialist Workers Party that would mean disclosure of contributors' names would have a chilling effect on those who may want to support the Socialist Workers campaigns.
In response to this latest attack on democratic rights by the City of Seattle, a new committee - the Seattle Committee to Defend Free Speech - was initiated at the protest meeting.
In an October 21 letter addressed to Powers and the campaign committee, SEEC executive director Carolyn M. Van Noy stated, "The campaign finance reports filed by Socialist Workers' 1997 Campaign are not in compliance with the law." The letter concluded, "Please amend each of the reports that has been filed, including the names and addresses of all contributors of more than $25.00 and of all vendors to whom the committee has paid more than $50.00 and file the amended reports with the City Clerk no later than November 4, 1997. In addition, submit to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission office a check in the amount of $6,040.00, payable to the City of Seattle, no later than November 4, 1997."
Meanwhile, on October 24, the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) issued written findings and conclusions based on its September 23 decision to approve the Socialist Workers 1997 Campaign Committee's request for an exemption from disclosing the names and addresses of its contributors and vendors. The PDC findings stated, "There is a long history of harassment, disruptive efforts by individuals and government agencies, government surveillance, and threats against individuals identified with the Socialist Workers Party nationwide."
In granting the exemption the PDC noted that disclosure of the names and addresses of campaign contributors "could have a chilling effect on the party's ability to solicit and collect campaign funds."
The PDC exemption is in effect through Dec. 31, 1997 and the Socialist Workers Campaign must reapply for a disclosure exemption for the 1998 statewide elections.
The Tacoma-based News Tribune became the second major daily in this area to denounce the PDC decision, echoing the opinion of the Seattle Times. On October 6, under the title, "Poor PDC decision sets bad precedent," the News Tribune editorialized: "Washington's Public Disclosure Commission - charged with ensuring the ethical conduct of political campaigns and candidates in this state - took a wildly wrong turn recently by granting a disclosure exemption to the Socialist Workers Party.
"No one would argue that minority parties and their candidates are frequently discounted, ignored and even harassed by those who disagree with their politics," said the News Tribune. "And simply by virtue of what they stand for, it would not seem unreasonable to speculate that members of the Socialist Workers Party are probably more frequent targets for attack than perhaps Republicans or Democrats.
"Fundamentally, though, these are the same difficulties and challenges faced by many candidates for public office, regardless of their politics or affiliations. Openness and full disclosure are the antidotes for public distrust and disenchantment - not secrecy and exemptions."
These developments set the framework for the October 25 protest meeting. "The SEEC, the Seattle Times and the Tacoma News Tribune all complain that the law must be applied equally, that we are all equal. But this is false," said Breen.
"These disclosure laws were never aimed at curbing corruption or cleaning up the electoral process. After 25 years, can anyone say the elections are fairer, cheaper, or less subject to corruption? No, these laws only created a legal opening for the government to intrude into workers organizations - be they trade unions or political parties like the SWP. That's why fighting for this exemption is so important," he explained.
The SEEC ruling comes at a time when growing numbers of workers are resisting the decades-long employer offensive. The Socialist candidates in Seattle played an active part in supporting the Teamsters on strike against UPS and farm workers fighting for union representation.
"My employer, Boeing, is the largest manufacturer of commercial aircraft in the world, and now a gigantic producer of military weapons," said Breen. "And they are in trouble. Last week they admitted they will lose $2.6 billion by not meeting their production schedule. Boeing stock has dived by 10 percent. Over a month ago Boeing attempted to intimidate me because I spoke out publicly about the effects on the workers of Boeing's profit- driven speedup -forced overtime, increased job injuries, and the possibilities for defective work in the rush. The company backed off due to support of my co-workers and the union.
"But in the past two weeks other Boeing workers have openly talked to the press about the conditions Boeing workers face," Breen said. "Management responded with an editorial in Plane Facts - a company magazine - as well as an article on the company's policy on speaking with the media. They are sending a clear warning to all of us - don't talk to the media at the risk of losing your job!" (See excerpts below.)
"The City of Seattle is sending a similar message to me, Boeing workers, and others who want to speak out and organize an independent working-class political course," continued Breen. "And this message is also a national one."
Breen announced the formation of the Seattle Committee to Defend Free Speech to be organized in "the tradition of the fighting labor movement." The purpose of this committee is to raise funds and reach out for support for the efforts of the Socialist Workers campaign to overturn the SEEC's decision, to restore the disclosure exemption, and to annul the fines, Breen said. The Washington State American Civil Liberties Union is supporting the fight and preparations are under way to appeal the decision in court. The Socialist Workers campaign also plans to appeal the SEEC fines.
Autumn Knowlton spoke at the protest meeting representing the Seattle chapter of the Young Socialists. She said that her organization "will be active in this new committee and plans to bring this fight into all activities we are a part of."
Jason Welling, the coordinator of Students for Democracy at Shorecrest High School, also spoke. He related the attempts by his school administration to force students active in his organization to sign a "Student Code of Conduct" in order to have use of school facilities. "The code includes agreement that freedom of speech may not be used to interfere with the educational process and a pledge to inform on fellow students involved in illegal activity inside or outside the school," said Welling.
The Seattle Committee to Defend Free Speech will hold its first meeting November 1 at 4:30 p.m. at 1405 E. Madison.
Letters and statements protesting the SEEC's decision are urgently needed. They can be sent to: Seattle Ethics and Election Commission, 226 Municipal Building, 600 Fourth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104, or Fax no. (206) 684- 8590. Copies should be sent to the office of the Mayor of Seattle, 600 Fourth Avenue, 12th Floor, Seattle, WA 98104 and to the Seattle Committee to Defend Free Speech. For more information on how you can help, contact the Seattle Committee to Defend Free Speech at 1122 E. Pike Street, Suite 727, Seattle, WA 98122.
The excerpts below are from the Fall 1997 issue of the Boeing magazine Plane Facts.
"Recently, our production challenges have been covered in the media. In some cases, the stories have been based on second-hand information taken out of context. I don't believe that any Boeing employee would intentionally provide information to the media that would be detrimental to our company or, in the long run, to his or her co-workers. Regardless, rumors about company business can result in irreparable damage to our reputation and relationship with customers, suppliers, shareholders and the general public. They could ultimately result in a serious competitive disadvantage and instability."
- Editorial by Ed Renouard, vice president and general manager, 747/767 Programs
"If you are contacted by the news media on a company- related matter, you must refer the reporter to the Public Relations/Communications office.- If there's a reason for you to be interviewed by the news media, then the interview must be arranged through PR/Communications. In a March 1996 letter to employees, Boeing Commercial Airplane Group President Ron Woodard stated that speaking with the media without having a PR communications representative present is a serious violation of company policy and would result in appropriate disciplinary action."
- Policy Reminder:
Speaking With the Media
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