The Nose

The Nose: Shadowy group visits Tacoma, plus a primer in sneaky legal tactics 101

Oh man, Sniff this! A shadowy group with a mysterious motive is descending on Tacomaland, spreading its sinister message far and wide.

Who could it be? Fracktivists in kayaks? The Executive Council for a Greater Tacoma? (Whoops — forgot about the in-house ban on any mention of that group.) Paramilitary survivalists seeking a new base of operations?

Wrong! You should have guessed the Sons of Norway, that nefarious, doughy group of seafood aficionados. They’re meeting all week at the Hotel Murano for their biennial international convention. Their home cell, where intricate plots are hatched in collaboration with lizard people, is Minneapolis, Minnesota. Oh yah!

For those with short memories (as in everyone under 75), the fishy gathering is unprecedented. It’s been a long time since this furtive Norwegian cohort convened in Pugetopolis. The last time the whole body met in these parts was 1954.

For those with short memories (as in everyone under 75), the fishy gathering is unprecedented. It’s been a long time since this furtive Norwegian cohort convened in Pugetopolis. The last time the whole body met in these parts was 1954.

It took a lot of digging to ferret out the planned activities and the agenda for this week’s blowout. Secret sources the Sniff can’t name (including multiple news releases, a curiously accessible website and a wide-open Facebook page) give a taste.

The first two days of the gathering (Monday and Tuesday) set the tone for the entire affair, and gave a hint of danger: 12 hours of committee meetings dedicated to Law, Resolutions, Finance and Reports, and an Innovative Leadership Conference led by a noted speaker who started giving speeches in 4-H at age 9! You betcha!

Thursday’s action showed the group loosening up with folk art registration, folk art judging, a coffee break, lunch and a folk art exhibition. Friday’s agenda features delegate assembly and a group photo. The event caps off Saturday with folk art item pickup and then .... a banquet and dance! These people are shameless.

Speaking of conspiracies: Activists trying to stop the proposed Liquid Natural Gas Storage Tank that Ate Tacoma cheered like mad recently when state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office filed a campaign-finance complaint against the Port of Tacoma and a pair of local business entities.

On the surface, celebration seemed like a no-brainer. The AG even thumbed its nose at the state’s campaign finance watchdog, the Public Disclosure Commission, which recommended taking no action against the port and the business groups.

A score for the masses, right? Naturally, the activists assumed the AG’s office was on their side — shoot, Ferguson’s office even issued a press release that smacked the port around. But as The Sniff’s old friend Sherlock once said, these are deep waters.

The AG’s complaint contends the port broke campaign rules by failing to disclose the legal costs of its cunning plan to fight an initiative proposed by Save Tacoma Water activists — an initiative that failed a legal test in court.

If you’re one of those activists, ponder this puzzler: What if the AG’s office is playing to lose? What if it’s all about making it easier for local governments to stop local initiatives without having to fight rear-guard actions over tactics?

If you’re one of those activists, ponder this puzzler: What if the AG’s office is playing to lose? What if it’s all about making it easier for local governments to stop local initiatives without having to fight rear-guard actions over tactics?

Sound far-fetched? Complicated? Of course it is. What are law degrees for, anyway?

Here’s the thing: The AG’s complaint against the port looks an awful lot like other campaign-finance complaints against other local initiatives, especially a complaint filed in October 2015 against the Olympia-based Freedom Foundation, which was providing legal advice for anti-union ballot propositions in small cities.

Those legal costs weren’t disclosed to the PDC. That was a violation, the AG’s complaint said.

Guess what happened? The AG lost the case seven months later. The court found that Freedom Foundation folks didn’t violate campaign-finance rules. And now the AG is saying the port violated campaign-finance rules by ... not disclosing its legal costs to the PDC!

Sensing a pattern yet? It’s a goose-gander thing. If activists don’t have to disclose their legal costs, do government agencies? If you’re a skeptic, you might find yourself thinking that the AG is acting tough in pursuit of a different goal: making sure the rules are the same for everyone, even if it means losing a few piddling legal battles in the process. Wait — that would be ... sneaky!

If you’re a skeptic, you might find yourself thinking that the AG is acting tough in pursuit of a different goal: making sure the rules are the same for everyone, even if it means losing a few piddling legal battles in the process. Wait — that would be ... sneaky!

Save Tacoma Water folks might recall another decision out of Spokane earlier this year. Another local initiative, fought by local government as illegal, went all the way to the state Supreme Court, which ruled 9-0 that the city had a right to challenge the thing before voters took a crack at it.

Still not catching it? Did you see what happened in Olympia this week? Activists tried to place a local income tax on the ballot. The city filed an injunction, saying the measure was legally invalid. Wednesday, a visiting judge agreed with the city, killing the initiative.

The judge? None other than Pierce County Superior Court’s own Jack Nevin, the same judge who killed Save Tacoma Water’s initiative in July. Everyone synchronize the horror-movie music right now!

Got news for The Nose? Write to TheNose@thenewstribune.com. Twitter: @thenosetribune

  Comments