Supporters of a $15 minimum wage in Seattle have asked King County prosecutors to investigate allegations that signature gatherers for a referendum that would put the measure to a vote in November are lying.
Canvassers for Forward Seattle, which seeks to undo the city ordinance that established a phased-in $15 minimum wage, have told people that the referendum would raise the minimum wage and that the city ordinance isn’t yet law, according to a July 1 letter to King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg.
Yes For Seattle, a group that supports the ordinance, requested the investigation. The group said it had received “numerous reports from members of the public that Forward Seattle’s signature gatherers have interfered with the right of voters … such as by lying to members of the public regarding the nature and substance of their referendum petition in order to procure signatures.”
The letter includes nine examples of misleading statements reported by registered voters who were asked to sign referendum petitions at eight different Seattle locations.
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Angela Cough, campaign chair for Forward Seattle, said her group hired a company to collect signatures. She said the company, which she declined to identify, was provided with a one-page fact sheet that clearly said that the referendum would send the $15 minimum-wage ordinance to a public vote.
She said the paid signature gatherers are independent contractors and not under the direct control of the campaign.
According to state law, it is illegal to interfere with the right of any voter to sign or not sign an initiative by threats, intimidation or any other “corrupt means or practice.”
Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office, said the office was in the process of evaluating the complaint and couldn’t immediately say whether any similar prosecutions had ever been brought in the county.
The Seattle City Council approved a $15 minimum-wage ordinance and Mayor Ed Murray signed it in early June. The measure is to take effect in April and will phase in the higher wage over three to seven years, depending on the type and size of business.
Forward Seattle initially submitted a city charter amendment that would raise the minimum wage to $12.50 an hour but was informed by city officials that charter amendments can only run in odd-numbered years. The group’s referendum campaign — which seeks to undo the new law with a public vote — has raised $46,000 through July 1, according to reports filed with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.
The top donors include Faye Garneau, a North Seattle businesswoman; Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks; and Chad Mackay, owner of El Gaucho restaurants.
The deadline to submit 16,510 valid signatures is Wednesday. Cough declined to say how many signatures they have in hand, but she said they expected to submit the petitions by the deadline and would continue collecting right up until then.
Casey Evans, a Capitol Hill resident, said he was approached outside the Trader Joe’s at 17th Avenue and East Madison Street last week and told by the signature gatherer that the referendum would raise the minimum wage.
“I said I thought the minimum wage had already passed, and he shook his head,” Evans said.
He said that at Sunday’s Seattle Pride Parade he also heard signature gatherers saying the referendum would raise the minimum wage to $15.
“They are absolutely misrepresenting it,” Evans said.
Bergen McMurray, a Central District resident, said she was approached June 19 while waiting for a bus at Fairview Avenue and Denny Way. She said the signature gatherer told her the petition was for a $15 minimum wage. When she asked to read it herself, she said the signature gatherer acknowledged that the referendum would put the $15 minimum wage on the ballot for a vote.
Working Washington, a union-backed organization that has organized for higher pay for fast-food workers and supports the $15 minimum-wage ordinance, also posted a recording on its website of a signature gatherer telling a voter that the ordinance “hasn’t been legalized yet.”
Cough said she’s aware of the allegations but said that since entering the campaign against the $15 minimum wage, she’s been misquoted and attacked. She said she’d listened to the Working Washington recording and wondered if the signature gatherer meant that the law hadn’t yet gone into effect.
Working Washington organizers protested Tuesday outside her business, The Flying Apron Bakery in Fremont, and at the businesses of two other donors to the Forward Seattle campaign.
Lynn Thompson: email@example.com or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes