Now a managing partner at Pacific Public Affairs, Joe Woods left Dow Constantine’s office in February 2015, more than three years before his lobbying for the Mariners began.
When the Mariners set out this year to secure $180 million in public funds from King County for Safeco Field upgrades, they added a key player to their lineup.
Seeking a portion of the county’s hotel-motel tax revenue as part of a 25-year lease extension at the ballpark, the team hired Joe Woods — King County Executive Dow Constantine’s former deputy chief of staff and longtime senior aide — to lobby Constantine and the County Council.
Many governments have “revolving door” laws that limit immediate lobbying by former legislators and other employees. Woods broke no such law.
Now a managing partner at Pacific Public Affairs, he left Constantine’s office in February 2015, more than three years before his lobbying for the Mariners began.
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King County’s ethics code prohibits former employees for one year from assisting in any action in which they participated at the county.
Constantine has proposed allocating the $180 million to Safeco Field, but the deal has yet to be sealed. This week, a council member abruptly dropped her support and introduced a competing proposal to use most of the money for affordable housing.
The Mariners have contracted with Pacific Public Affairs on various issues for more than 20 years, said Rebecca Hale, director of public relations. The team selected Woods, paying him $15,000, primarily because he is “a very smart guy,” she said.
“Everything has been totally above board in terms of his participation,” said Constantine’s chief of staff, Rachel Smith.
The county should probably provide better public access to lobbying records, Smith added. On its website, the county lists registered lobbyists and their clients but not the expense reports they file with the county.
The Mariners paid Woods $5,000 monthly for April, May and June, according to an expense report. The team used no other lobbyists. Those were crucial months for the Mariners, who had negotiated terms with the Public Facilities District for Safeco Field.
Email records indicate Woods carried out basic tasks. He was involved in planning for conference calls with Constantine staffers in March and May, and he set up a meeting between Constantine and Mariners chairman John Stanton in April.
The records also show that Woods met and exchanged messages with council members about the hotel-motel tax legislation.
Constantine announced the legislation May 23 and three council members sponsored it. But Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles withdrew her name from the legislation Tuesday, under pressure from housing advocates. The council next meets on the issue on Aug. 29, and a final vote could happen in September.
“The reality is that government and legislative processes are complex and Pacific Public Affairs helps people understand the rules and navigate them,” Woods said in an email. “I did work for the county years ago and have ensured all rules are being followed and any lobbying activity is being transparently reported.”
Before serving as deputy chief of staff, Woods was Constantine’s council-relations director. Constantine referred to Woods as “one of my most trusted” advisers in a news release when Woods moved on.
Under an initiative approved by voters in 2015, Seattle prohibits former department heads and their highest-paid employees for three years from lobbying the city.
The position of the local League of Women Voters is that former government employees should be barred for two years from working for any company for which they had oversight or contract responsibilities.
Despite its recent growth Seattle is “still a bit of a small town when it comes to politics and government,” said Stephanie Cirkovich, the league’s president. “Everyone is connected.”