The event is planned for March 23 at Rogoff’s Queen Anne Hill home after normal office hours and to include other transportation leaders.

Share story

Peter Rogoff, the CEO of Sound Transit, is scheduled to host a campaign fundraiser for incumbent King County Executive Dow Constantine — a powerful member of the transit board that oversees Rogoff’s employment and pay raises.

The event is planned for March 23 at Rogoff’s Queen Anne Hill home, to begin at 5:30 p.m. after normal office hours and to include other transportation leaders.

It’s one of several house parties for Constantine this spring by various supporters. Suggested donation levels are “Supporter” at $250, “Sponsor” at $500, and “Co-host” at $1,000.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

Learn more about Traffic Lab »

People are invited to celebrate last fall’s winning Sound Transit 3 (ST3) tax measure to fund $54 billion in projects over a quarter century. Rogoff was hired in late 2015 at a starting salary of $298,000 to craft the final plan. ST3 features seven light-rail extensions, an Interstate 405 bus rapid transit line and a commuter rail extension to DuPont.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition on Open Government, said such an event amounts to “buying influence” in the sense that Rogoff, or other transit staff who attend, may depend for their jobs on a candidate.

“I’m sure there will be people who would look askance at it, but I’m not thinking it would be illegal, and probably not officially unethical,” said Nixon, a Kirkland City Council member who participated in the No on ST3 campaign.

Evelyn Fielding Lopez, executive director of the state Public Disclosure Commission, said there’s no campaign-finance violation unless transit property or resources are used.

Public employees often exercise their individual right to give money to campaigns.

The upcoming party is no different, says Christian Sinderman, a consultant for Constantine’s re-election. Asked if Rogoff’s independence will be hampered, Sinderman said Rogoff has proved a strong and capable leader.

“Most elected officials are happy to accept donations from their employees, because it’s a sign of a healthy relationship,” Sinderman said.

Rogoff couldn’t be reached for comment.

Sound Transit’s code of ethics forbids board members from accepting contributions of over $250 from agency staff. Sinderman said Rogoff’s gift to Constantine will be “de minimus,” except offering the house and perhaps doing dishes.

More generally, the code says staff and board members should devote their best efforts to “protecting the integrity of the decision-making process by recognizing and avoiding conflicts between public duties and private interests and activities.”

Rogoff, former Federal Transit Administration chief, was nominated by Constantine, who was then Sound Transit board chairman as well as county executive. By law, the King County executive chooses, reappoints or drops nine of the 18 board members — making Constantine the single most powerful board member.

The campaign event comes amid sticker shock over ST3 car-tax increases that can reach hundreds of dollars.

Suburban lawmakers have proposed to reduce the inflated car-value schedule Sound Transit uses to calculate car-tab taxes; replace the board with 11 elected members by district; or let cities opt out of ST3. Of these, the car-tax reductions have the best odds of passing.

Conservative talk-show host Todd Herman, of KTTH Radio, tweeted a screengrab Monday of the party invitation. He said listeners might show up outside with their car-tax bills.

“To me it’s just a confirmation of all we know about Sound Transit. It’s a crony game. It’s an insider’s game,” Herman said in an interview.

Constantine, who lives in West Seattle, won the executive seat in 2009 over Susan Hutchison, a former news anchor who is now state GOP chairwoman.