Egan Orion, the Seattle City Council candidate challenging District 3 incumbent Kshama Sawant, has agreed to pay a $1,000 fine for omitting sponsorship information from an advertisement in The Stranger newspaper.
The payment to the city, pending approval Friday by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC), will settle an elections-code complaint against the Orion campaign, which paid $6,300 for an ad made to look like the cover of The Stranger’s Oct. 9 print edition, which was devoted to the newspaper’s endorsements ahead of the Nov. 5 elections. The ad was wrapped around the real cover, which looked similar but had no Orion campaign ad. Inside the edition, The Stranger endorsed Sawant.
“The ‘wrapper’ ad spanned the first and second pages of a false cover … mimicking the paper’s actual cover except for the bottom third of the page promoting Orion’s candidacy,” says the settlement agreement between SEEC executive director Wayne Barnett and the Orion campaign. “Turning the page, there was a full-page ad promoting the candidate.”
While the phrase “paid advertisement” was printed on the spine of the first page and sponsor identification was included on the second page, no sponsor identification was included on the first page.
Seattle’s elections code says the name and address of the person who paid for a print ad must appear on the first page or fold, and in the settlement the Orion campaign agrees the ad violated the code. Orion and his campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The violation in question carries a fine of up to $5,000, Barnett said.
The complaint about the Orion ad was filed by an employee in The Stranger’s editorial department, digital editor Chase Burns. In his complaint, Burns described the ad as misleading. Its layout suggested the newspaper was endorsing Orion, he wrote. Burns wasn’t involved with the ad sale, he said.
“I’m glad the SEEC agrees that the Egan for Seattle sponsor ID should have been on the first page of the ad,” Burns said in a statement Thursday.
The Orion campaign knew the ad would be placed on a false cover, though it didn’t know what the rest of the page would look like, said Laurie Saito, The Stranger’s publisher. She said she supports Burns’ choice to file a complaint with the SEEC.
To date, Sawant’s 2019 campaign has not been fined for any elections violations, Barnett said. Her 2015 campaign was fined $1,650 for failing to report in a timely manner more than $35,000 in debts incurred, he said.
The last time the SEEC imposed a similar penalty was in 2017, when the Seattle Police Officers Guild agreed to pay $750 for an ad in The Seattle Times that attacked incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes and included the union’s logo but omitted other sponsorship identification and a mandatory statement that no candidate had authorized it.
Update: The Orion campaign shared this statement Friday: “We took out a ‘wrapper’ ad on the cover of The Stranger to coincide with ballots arriving so D3 voters could learn more about our grassroots campaign. As you might imagine, the Stranger did not share their cover art with us in advance. We knew the Stranger would print “PAID ADVERTISEMENT” on our ad and we included the full disclosure on the full-page ad. It was an oversight not to include it on the 1/3 page ad on the front.”
The campaign added, “Either way, it’s clear to readers that this is a paid advertisement. We settled this issue with the SEEC so that we can get back to focusing on issues important to District 3 voters, like the homelessness crisis, affordability, transportation, and the climate crisis.”