Section One

April 8, 2005

Volume 33,
Issue 14

Sat, Feb 27, 2016


Freedom Socialist candidate Linda Averill wins right to keep donors’ names private
Freedom Socialist candidate Linda Averill wins right to keep donors’ names private
The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission ruled unanimously Wednesday that Seattle City Council candidate Linda Averill will not be required to disclose the names of contributors to her campaign. Averill, a city bus driver, feminist, and labor activist, is back in the electoral ring to challenge City Council President Jan Drago. In going to the SEEC, she sought an exemption from campaign rules that require candidates to disclose names, addresses, and employers of their donors. That information is posted on the worldwide web.

Citing the likelihood of harassment, retaliation and threats that could be (and often are) made at supporters of socialist candidates, Averill has staunchly held to the principle of confidentiality when it comes to making public the names of her donors. When she ran for city council two years ago the commission then denied her request to keep her supporters’ names private so she took the fight all the way to federal court and won. This time the commission granted her privacy without a lengthy court battle, and Averill hopes the State Public Disclosure Commission follow the Seattle commission’s lead.

Averill’s petition is based on well-established First Amendment protections that allow minor parties, such as Averill’s Freedom Socialist Party, to preserve the confidentiality of supporters and recipients of campaign funds when there is reasonable probability that public disclosure could expose them to threats, harassment or reprisals from private parties or the government.

“By granting my request this time, the SEEC is sending a strong message that Seattle respects privacy rights, and invites diversity in the electoral arena,” Averill said. “And heaven knows we need both!”

In June 2003, the SEEC rejected Averill’s petition, launching a year-long legal battle with City Hall. It ended in success for Averill in July 2004 when a federal court upheld her constitutional rights and made permanent an injunction that forbade the SEEC from forcing her to report names.

In a March 10, 2005 letter sent to the SEEC, civil rights attorneys Val Carlson and Fred Hyde assert that the climate for dissident views is even chillier than it was two years ago, when Averill last appeared before the commission. The letter cites numerous new examples of harassment against Freedom Socialist Party members and supporters, including threats generated from a neo-Nazi website over several months in 2004 after the Nazis and KVI radio jocks urged listeners to besiege FSP’s headquarters over an antiwar sign posted in the window.

Privacy Rights vs.

Public Disclosure

First Amendment rights for minor party candidates have been established by the U.S. Supreme Court in various landmark cases, and upheld as recently as 2003. The FSP has received exemptions in the past, both from the SEEC and Washington State Public Disclosure Commission. Similarly, the Socialist Workers Party has received city and state exemptions, as well as multi-year exemptions from the Federal Elections Commission.

But in 2003, in a 4-2 ruling, a majority of the Seattle commission denied Averill’s petition, citing Seattle’s “liberal” atmosphere as among the reasons for their decision. This ruling dealt a severe blow to Averill’s fundraising ability and produced a flurry of negative editorials in the daily downtown press.

However, two commissioners, Mel Kang and Bruce Heller, wrote a strong dissenting opinion to the SEEC majority opinion. And rather than accept the ruling, Averill filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court. She kept individual donations under $25, which is the amount candidates can collect and maintain donor confidentiality. In August 2003, with two weeks left in the primary race, Federal Court Judge Robert S. Lasnik granted a temporary injunction against the SEEC, enabling Averill to collect larger donations. She finished with 10 percent of the vote in a six-way race and raised $14,000.

After the election, the SEEC and City Attorney Tom Carr continued efforts to reverse Lasnik’s ruling, despite considerable cost to tax payers. Civil liberties advocates and community leaders, including civil rights attorney Jeff Needle, state Senator Adam Kline, U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott and Seattle NAACP then-president Carl Mack, urged officials to respect the First Amendment and not waste city funds.

Ruling recognizes importance

of robust debate

In July 2004, Judge Lasnik made his temporary injunction against the city permanent. He wrote, “where there is a significant risk that the exercise of First Amendment rights would be chilled by forced disclosure, the Court should err on the side of protecting those freedoms which are essential to the continuing health of our republic.”

Lasnik’s decision quoted the landmark Brown case, declaring that “even small risks associated with the publication of supporters’ names could deter contributions and/or the provision of services and that such deterrence could ...cripple a minor party’s ability to operate effectively and reduce “free circulation of ideas both within and without the political arena.”

He noted that a quick search of the city’s website and a telephone directory would “provide a potential harasser with all the information he or she needs to cheaply, anonymously, and effectively threaten plaintiffs.” He also observed that the city’s interest in fair elections before an informed electorate was satisfied by requiring Averill and her campaign committee to submit contribution and expenditure data in coded form to ensure compliance with city campaign finance laws. The text of Lasnik’s ruling is available at

In August 2004, the SEEC voted unanimously to not appeal the case to a higher court.

Advocates for Averill news release with additional reports from the Seattle Gay News. Email

Leslie Robinson

Madelyn Arnold