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Anne Bremner sees ‘irony’ in Murray’s defense fund options

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is surrounded and embraced by supporters, some in tears, after reading a statement on May 9, saying that he is dropping his re-election bid for a second term. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray received some bad news Wednesday when an ethics panel concluded that his supporters can’t solicit money for a legal defense fund to fight his sexual abuse allegations.

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Seattle attorney Anne Bremner called the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission’s decision a “huge setback” for the mayor.

“It really equates to what would be an illegal gift, an unethical gift to a public official,” Bremner said. “So they are saying you can’t do it, it’s not allowed, we’re advising you not to do it.”

A group of Murray’s supporters wants to raise money for Murray’s impending legal fight against Delvonn Heckard, who sued the mayor last month, alleging Murray sexually abused him as a teenager in the 1980s. Two other men have come forward with similar allegations, with another stating Murray paid him for sex.

Murray’s supporters say it may take $1 million for Murray to defend himself against the allegations.

Murray, who has maintained his innocence of all the allegations, said that he can’t afford to defend himself without assets or investments. But he has also vowed to fight in order to defend his integrity.

Murray’s lawyers argued that making the donations anonymous would get around the issue of the money potentially impacting decisions made in the city. Bremner said the commission ruled it would violate Blue Sky laws.

KIRO Radio’s Ron Upshaw asked Bremner about the uniqueness of the proposed fund, which would have allowed for unlimited, anonymous donations and would include donators signing a confidential non-disclosure agreement, with money overseen by a former politician appointed by the mayor – former Seattle City Councilmember Martha Choe. Had she ever seen something like that before?

“Never. I never have. And I don’t think any of us ever will,” she said.

Bremner pointed to another infamous defense fund — for then-President Bill Clinton during the impeachment proceedings.

“But this is a totally different situation,” she said. “Keep in mind also that this is something done as we know, privately, in secret … in the dark, presumably, unknown to other people — 30 years ago. The lawyers are saying it’s politically motivated, and that’s why this fund should be allowed, but that argument just didn’t pass muster with the ethics board.”

What if Murray steps down

While Murray has announced he won’t be running for re-election, mayoral candidate Mike McGinn and others have asked that he step down from the post now. Murray has given no indication of doing so. If he did, though, Bremner said that the mayor could then raise funds as a private citizen.

“Every private citizen can have funding in a lawsuit,” she said. “There are some ethical constraints on how that’s done with lawyers, but a third party can make payments in litigation to assist somebody else. That’s the irony, though, don’t you think? If he steps down and he’s a private citizen, then he can get donations. But then the question is: Will he? And that brings you back to what the ethics board is concerned about is the influence. Do people really want to donate when he’s no longer the mayor?”

Mayor Ed Murray raised about $400,000 for his re-election campaign and there are questions about what happens to that money now that he’s withdrawn from the race.

Upshaw asked whether Murray could make some wink-and-nod dealings with that money to get around the commission setback. For instance, making a large donation to an outside firm as his term is ending and could maybe benefit from that down the road. Bremner said that is a distinct possibility, pointing to a report by The Seattle Times that Murray used surplus campaign funds as a state senator in 2008 to discredit his accusers.

“Well, it sure could (happen). I hope it doesn’t,” Bremner said. “With lawyers involved, they’ve got ethical duties to not let that happen, because that’s influence too. If people are saying now, ‘I’ll do it later’ and presumably for something that they’ll get in return, that doesn’t work either. It still violates the ethical rules. Hopefully, if he steps down, he can have a defense fund. But the question is, how much is he gonna have?”

Ron and Don on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM

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About the Author

Eric Mandel

Eric Mandel joined MyNorthwest.com and 710 ESPN Seattle in August of 2015 after almost a decade of reporting at daily and non-daily newspapers in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Washington. Email Eric at emandel@mynorthwest.com

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