Seattle, WA – The Seattle City Council has used a loophole to skip the bidding process and award $3 million to a group of non-profits that were behind the cop-free “autonomous zone” on Capitol Hill.
Seattle City Council Insight (SCCI) reported that Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales lobbied the city council all summer to take funding away from the police department and give it to community led programs.
Morales was on the front lines of the effort to defund the Seattle Police Department from the movement’s inception after the death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police in May.
During the time while city leadership was trying to get the protesters to move out of the occupied area, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan launched the Mayor’s Equitable Communities Initiative (ECI) task force to guide $3 million of investments into minority communities, SCCI reported.
At the same time, the city council voted to hand a $3 million contract to King County Equity Now (KCEN), an anti-police organization of multiple groups who were behind the establishment of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) that later became the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP), for a research project, FOX News reported.
The city council commissioned KCEN’s “Black Brilliance” research project to identify priorities for community investments and recommend the best way to set up a participatory budgeting process to give out an addition $3 million in investments.
KCEN’s project plan said it would “focus on identifying the needs and priorities of [Black and Indigenous People of Color] communities, particularly Black communities” and “aim to identify what communities want to see in Participatory Budgeting (PB) so that Seattle’s PB will be community-led and centered of the experience, wisdom and expertise of Black people in the Seattle-metro area.”
But there was a problem because city law required that all advisory contracts for more than $54,000 be bid out unless they were being awarded to a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, SCCI reported.
KCEN was a registered 501 (c)(4) non-profit organization.
The distinction is that (c)(3) organizations must keep their lobbying to less than 20 percent of the non-profits activities and spending, and contributions to it are tax deductible, according to the Nonprofit Law Blog.
So to get around the restrictions while KCEN applied for 501(c)(3) status, the city council gave them the contract through 501(c)(3) group Freedom Project, which is tasked with acting as the “fiscal agent” while KCEN is the subcontractor, SCCI reported.
In return, Freedom Project will be paid five percent, or $150,000, from the $3 million awarded to KCEN.
Morales’ office was put in charge of managing the money for the Black Brilliance project, SCCI reported.
The council member, who is a Democratic Socialist, defended the council’s action and said the contract to KCEN was “democratizing power and resources.”
“The issue is not whether this is a typical research project but is instead entirely about how to teach community members exactly how to critically analyze the impact of policy on their neighborhood. (It’s access to power that my community has never enjoyed.),” she wrote in an email to SCCI.
“We could have contracted with a university and had graduate students doing this research, but that would not have produced the outcomes we’re looking for,” the councilmember added.
She also told SCCI it was “standard operating procedure to use contracting through fiscal agents for organizations that have not established” 501(c)(3) status.
KCEN has turned in a project plan and schedule but hasn’t really explained how it plans to do the do the research project.
Included in the project plan was a 65-page “cookbook” to instruct recruits from the community on how to conduct the research and giving them choices of what to research, an approach that led critics to preliminarily question the validity of any data collected, SCCI reported.