By Connor Nash
On Jan 19, Councilmember Sawant announced that she would not seek reelection but instead start Workers Strike Back, an independent campaign led by and for “rank and file workers.” In her announcement speech, Sawant lambasted not only her usual opponents like Amazon, the parasitic capitalist class, and the corrupt democratic politicians but also her fellow Socialists. She stated:
“…[S]ince 2013 more than 200 self-identified Democratic Socialists candidates have been elected nationally, but unfortunately, with rare exceptions, many have abandoned their campaign promises…”
But it seems Sawant herself has abandoned her most central campaign promise: that she is not in politics for the money. Sawant promised Seattle voters that she would refuse to accept her full councilmember salary, and as a 2013 Seattle Times article states,”… will donate all but about $40,000 to mass movements for social justice.”
The Councilmember has repeated this campaign promise throughout her political career, most recently at a 2022 Starbucks Workers Rally claiming “I accept only the average worker’s wage, taking home only $40,000 of my $146,000 City Council salary, after taxes…”
Despite repeating this promise for nearly a decade, Sawant has failed to fulfill it even once while she has been in office. The total donation goal during Sawant’s tenure in office would be nearly $378,000, but according to her records, she only donated $234,000, a shortfall of $150,000. Of the funds that have been donated and reported, over $181,000 worth of donations went to organizations that have a direct financial connection to Sawant or her household. In total Sawant only donated $52,233.68 to other social justice organizations.
Dr. Phil says, “The best predictor of future behavior is relevant past behavior.” So, as we predict how Workers Strike Back will be run, let’s focus on how the Kshama Solidarity Fund and Campaign have been run and which “social justice movements” have received the most.
I also want to apologize for the number of numbers in this article, it can be confusing which is inherent in any article focusing on any organization’s financials. A TLDR is located at the end.
Kshama Solidarity Fund
Located on her political party website, the Socialist Alternative, Councilmember Sawant posts the donations made by the Solidarity Campaign each year. Every year the councilmember failed to donate the website’s stated goal of $42,000 a year, coming close in 2016 ($40,675) and 2019 ($38,974.85). In other years, the Councilmember was severely under her stated goal; $21,424.53 was donated in 2018, $24,518.30 in 2020, and $4,473 in 2021.
Although the Councilmember failed to donate nearly $150,000 over the past decade, she has donated around $234,000, which is to be admired. However, of the total funds donated, 77% were donated to organizations in which Sawant or her household has a vested financial interest.
The organization that the Councilmember donated to the most was 15Now, a Seattle-based nonprofit focused on a $15 minimum wage that was registered and run by her husband, Calvin Priest. The Kshama Solidarity campaign stated they donated over $93,000 to 15Now between 2014-2020, many years had high-dollar donations; $19,000 in 2015, $18,000 in 2017, and $7,200 in 2020.
Sawant’s donation to 15Now in 2020 stands out because that was the year the nonprofit failed to renew its nonprofit status with the WA Secretary of State. Priest is still reported to be an officer of 15Now, according to the Councilmember’s 2022 financial disclosure form, even though the 15Now website has not been updated in nearly five years and their Twitter account for almost two years.
2020 was also the year Sawant donated $10,000 to Tax Amazon, an organization created by the Councilmember and whose husband, Priest, was the Political Director. Priest claimed to have earned between $10,000 – $24,999 that year according to the Councilmember’s 2021 financial disclosure form. Tax Amazon operated for only 17 months and was administratively dissolved in September 2021, according to the WA Secretary of State.
The second largest receiver of the Kshama Solidarity Fund is Socialist Alternative, the Councilmember’s political party, receiving nearly $79,000 from 2014-2021. Again, large value donations were made to the political party; $13,800 in 2016 and 2017, and $21,200 in 2019. In return, the Councilmember received trips from the Socialist Alternative party totaling $23,506. Between 2015 and 2020, the Councilmember was flown around the world from Boston and Minneapolis to Brussels and Brazil, all paid for by her political party.
Sawant does report a wide variety of donations to other social justice movements throughout the years including: PFLAG ($22.02), flowers for Edmund Witter($66), the Fair Work Center ($50), memorial flowers for Amina Ahmed ($47.28), graffiti removal ($100), and flowers for activist Imogene Williams ($58.30).
Although these donations seem cherry-picked, they are not outliers, roughly 73% of all the councilmember’s donations were $500 or less. Any amount donated to these organizations and florists is helpful, but the Councilmember has enough in her fund balance to double all donations of $500 or less and have funds left over.
Although Sawant’s Socialist Alternative website shows $0 donated by the Councilmember in 2022, she does claim to have made some donations: $5,000 to the Seattle Educators Strike Fund and $5,000 to the Starbuck workers strike fund.
Kshama Solidarity Campaign (2021)
Kshama Solidarity Fund’s purpose is to donate money from the fund to social justice organizations, while the Kshama Solidarity Campaign’s main goal was to reelect the Councilmember. The Solidarity Campaign is a blueprint for what the political arm of the future Workers Strike Back movement will be. The financial disclosures during the 2021 Recall race show transactions that counter its overall mission, to go after big businesses and the “parasitic capitalists.”
From March to December 2021, the Solidarity campaign made over four dozen transactions at Amazon totaling over $14,000. Purchases include button supplies, ink toner, canopies, printers, paper towels, more canopies, more ink, reusable bags, more canopies, more ink, etc. All the canopies and printers were essential to Sawant’s win in creating her legal pop-up voting sites. The campaign did return over $6,000 worth of equipment in 2022, once the Recall race was over.
Along with Amazon, the campaign made over $3,000 in purchases at Home Depot, which according to Open Secrets is a major donor to the National Republican Senatorial and Congressional Committees. Purchases made at Home Depot were for supplies such as umbrellas, chairs, and more canopies.
These thousands of dollars worth of purchases at multiple big businesses, which attack workers’ rights and support right-wing politicians, seem counter to a Councilmember who in a recent press conference said that “the right wing is on the attack against abortion rights and LGBT issues.”
After 15Now and Tax Amazon failed to renew their nonprofit status, Priest worked on the Kshama Solidarity Campaign at $2,360 per month. Over the course of the Recall campaign, Priest made over $28,000. Everybody deserves to be paid for their work, but this is yet another example of thousands of dollars going from a Sawant-led organization to the Sawant household. The councilmember herself donated $600 of her own money to the Solidarity Campaign, making the net amount from the Sawant household to the effort nearly -$27,400.
As we predict the future work of the Workers Strike Back movement, what is the relevant recent history of the Kshama Solidarity Fund and Campaign? We can predict a failure to meet stated financial goals, a siphoning off of money from the movement to organizations directly affiliated with the Sawant household, and thousands spent at corporations that are the anthesis of the movement.
Kshama Solidarity Fund Facts
|Total donation goal||? $378,000|
|Yearly donation goal||? $42,000 per year|
|Total Number actually donated||$234,069.68|
|Total Number of donations||119|
|Total donated to Sawant Organizations||$181,836|
|As Percentage of total donations||77.7%|
|Total donated to 15Now||$93,050|
|Total donated to Socialist Alternative||$78,786|
|Total donated to Tax Amazon||$10,000|
|Total donated to Other Socal Justice Orgs||$52,233.68|
|As Percentage of total donations||22.3%|
|Number of donations ? $500||88|
|Number of donations ? $100||19|
|Funds yet to be donated (as of 2021)||$108,825.32|
Kshama Solidarity Campaign Facts (2021)
|Salary for Calvin Priest||$28,316.80|
|Total Spent at Amazon||$14,167.22|
|Total Returned to Amazon||-$6,360.81|
|Net Spent at Amazon||$7,806.41|
|Total Spent at Home Depot||$3,283.09|
|Total spent on Airline Tickets||$543.58|
|Total Spent at Socialist Alternative||$5,066|
– Connor Nash