From Seattle Times: Seattle police are investigating a City Council campaign after an allegation that it tried to defraud Seattle’s first-in-the-nation, taxpayer-funded “democracy voucher” program.
The police inquiry comes after a former campaign manager for Sheley Secrest went to city elections officials to accuse Secrest of putting her own money into the campaign and claiming it was donated by Seattle voters.
The Seattle Times reached five of those voters. All five said they did not give money to Secrest.
“No, I did not make a contribution,” said Jennifer Estroff. “I’m very confident of that.”
“I definitely did not give a donation,” said Robert Carson. “That’s definitely false.”
Seattle police Deputy Chief Carmen Best said that because of the investigation, “it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”
Secrest, an attorney and vice president of the local NAACP chapter, finished sixth in the Aug. 1 primary, with 4.5 percent of the vote and did not advance to the fall election for City Council Position 8.
Secrest strongly denied the allegation Wednesday, dismissing it as a fabrication by her disgruntled former campaign manager Patrick Burke, whom she said she fired. “I know he’s upset because he was terminated,” she said.
She maintained the campaign did not take any shortcuts or violate any ethics. “Nothing has been filed against me. There have been no complaints,” she said.
She did not have an explanation for why five people listed as contributors on records submitted to the city elections office told The Seattle Times they did not donate to Secrest. “I have absolutely no clue,” she said. She said contributions were collected from all of them.
If the allegations are substantiated, they could deeply bruise Seattle’s novel program, approved by voters in 2015 to give grass-roots candidates a better chance against well-funded campaigns. At the same time, an investigation might show the program’s integrity.
The contributions at issue were crucial to Secrest’s efforts to qualify for potentially more than $100,000 in democracy vouchers. She did not qualify, in part, because some signatures submitted by the campaign were not from Seattle residents and some were not from registered voters, according to elections records.
The voucher program’s rules for qualifying require that a candidate collect 400 small contributions and corresponding signatures from Seattle voters. Elections officials then verify the signatures as a safeguard against fraudulent signatures, which were found in Portland’s public-financing system.
As Secrest got close to qualifying, she reported 56 signatures collected June 23 that might put her over the threshold. Each signature was accompanied by a reported $10 contribution on paperwork submitted to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. The commission oversees the voucher program.
Burke, the former campaign manager, alleges Secrest used $560 of her own money to account for the 56 contributions, substituting her own funds for those her campaign said came from Seattle voters. That would be illegal.
Burke said he was sitting in a car with Secrest on June 26 when she took out an envelope full of $20 bills. According to Burke, she said “that’s 560” and filled in a $10 contribution next to each of the 56 signatures. Burke said he asked Secrest where she got the money, and she replied, “off my credit card.”
“I categorically deny all of that,” Secrest said. “That never, ever took place … To say we did something dishonest, that’s offensive.”
She also said, “It’s a shame a white man would lead these attacks.”
Read the rest of the story here.