The August 28 ruling is a preliminary injunction overturning an earlier decision by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) requiring disclosure. The exemption ran through the primary election, which was held September 16. To date the City of Seattle has not appealed the decision. Todays ruling is a step forward for voters who would like to see a broader spectrum of political viewpoints expressed in City Council races, said Averill in an August 29 statement. By forcing me into federal court to uphold the constitutional right to privacy of my contributors, the SEEC hamstrung my campaign.
Averills statement noted that a 1982 federal Supreme court ruling in favor of the Socialist Workers Party provided the basis for much of the discussion in Judge Lasniks courtroom.
In his ruling, Lasnik quoted from a 1974 decision by the Supreme Court granting the SWP exemption from disclosure. The 1974 decision read, The constitution protects against the compelled disclosure of political associations and beliefs. Such disclosures can seriously infringe on privacy of association and belief guaranteed by the First Amendment. Inviolability of privacy in group association may in many circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.
As evidence that the court should protect privacy of association and belief, Lasnik referred to a number of threatening e-mails and phone calls received by the Freedom Socialist Party and its members. The threats included, Two in the chest, one in the head, pull the trigger and the commie is dead, and I cant wait to kill you. Judge Lasnick commented, It is impossible to view [such] recent statements…as anything other than threatening.
Lasnik added, Defendants argue that Seattle in 2003 is a friendly, open-minded place, and that plaintiffs evidence of hostility toward socialism is stale and/or from outside our community. While one would hope society could tolerate dissident views with equanimity, defendants ignore the fact that all of the statements recounted above were made in the last four years (with three of them made in the past eight months) and all were received by Freedom Socialist Party supporters here in Seattle. Lasnik noted that if contributors names were disclosed, they would also be accessible to hostile individuals and groups beyond Seattle and Washington State. If the SEEC requirement stood, he said, the city authorities intend to publish the names and, if the amount contributed exceeds $100, employers of plaintiffs supporters on the world wide web.
Major daily opposes ruling
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, one of the citys two major dailies, editorialized against Lasniks ruling in its September 2 issue. The voters right to know who is funding political candidates campaigns must outweigh any right to secrecy their contributors might claim, it stated. That is the principle we trust will prevail. The paper said that Averills fear of harassment and retaliation was melodramatic.
David Ferguson, the Socialist Workers Party candidate for Seattle city council, celebrated the decision. The case is an important victory for workers rights. Ferguson added that supporters of political rights need to keep up the fight against the SEECs denial of disclosure exemption to candidates running on the FSP, SWP, or other tickets independent of the main capitalist parties.
Since 1979 the Federal Election Commission has granted exemptions to SWP campaign committees, most recently in April. That decision covered the partys presidential campaigns through the end of 2008. At the state level, the Public Disclosure Commission in Washington State granted an exemption for the SWP campaign in 1999, the last time the party requested an exemption. Two years before that the SEEC had ruled against the SWP, saying that it must disclose the names of contributors to its campaign for mayor of Seattle. After a public fight to reverse the SEEC decision, an agreement was reached in which the campaign was not required to disclose the names and addresses of campaign contributors.
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