Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office sued SEIU 775 on Thursday, accusing the politically active union of failing to properly report nearly $1.4 million in donations to its political-action committee.
The lawsuit, filed in Thurston County Superior Court, came in response to a complaint from the conservative Freedom Foundation, which had accused SEIU of multiple violations of the state’s public-disclosure laws.
The state Public Disclosure Commission rejected most of the allegations but found the union may have failed to report in-kind contributions of staff time to its PAC.
Ferguson’s office looked further and discovered the union also had failed to report cash contributions of $1.39 million to its PAC between 2010 and 2015.
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While that money was reported by the PAC, it was not properly disclosed in lobbying paperwork filed by the union, the lawsuit alleges. In addition, the lawsuit says the union’s in-kind donations of staff time by top SEIU officers were not reported by its PAC.
The lawsuit by Ferguson, a Democrat, targets a potent political ally of his party. SEIU represents more than 40,000 long-term-care workers who provide in-home nursing and other services. The union has spent big in support of Democratic candidates and liberal causes, including campaigns for the $15 minimum wage.
James Abernathy, general counsel for the Freedom Foundation, praised Ferguson’s lawsuit, calling it the “tip of the iceberg” in uncovering SEIU’s political activities.
“We’re extremely glad they are going to bring this to light. This is in and of itself a victory for open government and open disclosure laws,” he said.
An SEIU officer called any reporting omissions unintentional.
Adam Glickman, secretary-treasurer of the union, said there was no effort to hide the money, noting the contributions had been disclosed in paperwork filed by the union’s PAC.
“We respect the role of the PDC and the attorney general in enforcing these laws, and we’re going to cooperate with them fully,” Glickman said. “If there are things we have done wrong, we will fix them.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified civil penalties and attorneys costs from SEIU.