Should political consultants be allowed to lobby city officials they helped elect? David Mendoza, an aide to former mayor Ed Murray, wants the practice banned, saying he's seen evidence of possible conflicts of interest.
Seeking to plug what he says is a troubling gap in Seattle’s ethics rules, an aide to former Mayor Ed Murray says the city should ban political consultants from lobbying the officials they helped get elected.
David Mendoza, a senior policy adviser in the mayor’s office since 2014, made the proposal in a letter Monday to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC), the city’s politics and lobbying watchdog.
Mendoza said his concern is not merely hypothetical. He pointed to Seattle political consultant Sandeep Kaushik, who worked for Murray’s 2013 campaign — and then went on to lobby the city on behalf of corporate clients, including Comcast, Lyft and Airbnb. City lobbying records show Kaushik, a partner in the lobbying firm Sound View Strategies, has been paid $78,000 this year by those three companies.
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“I have seen this access and influence alter or successfully block legislation and it is impossible to determine whether the advice provided was the result of a conflict of interest,” Mendoza wrote in his letter, which points out Kaushik is now working on the campaign of mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan.
Mendoza is supporting Durkan’s rival, Cary Moon, in the mayor’s race.
Kaushik, in an interview, defended his work, saying he has “fully complied” with Seattle’s ethics laws, which require lobbyists to register and report their clients and payments. He attacked the timing of Mendoza’s letter, which comes as the Nov. 7 election enters its final stretch.
“I think this is a late ploy by someone who is deeply involved in Cary Moon’s campaign in a senior level, and who is personally involved with her consulting team to create the appearance of impropriety where there is none,” Kaushik said, noting that Mendoza’s girlfriend works for Moon’s political consultant firm, Moxie Media.
“The work I have been doing on the lobbying side has been trying to find areas where my clients and the city can come into agreement … and develop good policy that works for the city and is effective,” Kaushik added.
Mendoza said in an interview that the Moon campaign was not behind his letter, which he said is aimed “to make a hidden conflict of interest public and create a public conversation on this issue.”
His proposal would bar any person who served as a political consultant or campaign manager to a city elected official from registering as a lobbyist for the duration of the elected official’s term of office. He cited similar laws in Alaska and Maryland.
Mendoza, who continues to work in the mayor’s office under temporary Mayor Tim Burgess, said he was making the proposal in his personal capacity. A spokesperson for Burgess did not respond to requests for comment.
While Seattle already has ethics laws barring former employees from lobbying the city for at least two years, Mendoza argued that a ban on political consultants lobbying could be more important. “An elected official may feel that they owe their job… to the hard work and diligence of their consultants and campaign staff,” his letter said.
Mendoza also wants the ethics commission to explore banning lobbyists whose clients have made big donations to independent-expenditure committees, which can raise and spend unlimited funds in support of candidates.
Any change to the ethics law would require legislation to the Seattle City Council, and Mendoza said he hopes the ethics commission can work on a viable proposal. He’s asked the commission begin consideration of such a proposal at its next meeting in November.
The commission is a seven-member volunteer citizen committee which has three members appointed by the City Council, three by the mayor, and a seventh member chosen by other commissioners. Mendoza previously served on the panel.
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While not commenting on the merits of the proposal, Wayne Barnett, executive director of the ethics commission, said it is likely commissioners will consider Mendoza’s request. “I do think they’ll have a discussion about it,” he said.