Produce Politics

A charity redistributes funds to lobbying efforts.

The Market Foundation, one of the city's heavyweight charities, is now one of Seattle's newest political organizations. Using what its director calls $165,000 in "reserve" funds that could otherwise go to its programs to provide housing, food, and medical services to downtown's poor, the 26-year-old Pike Place Market charity is funding a political arm called Citizens for the Pike Place Market, whose ultimate goal is to gain voter approval for a levy that would raise $75 million in public funds to renovate the century-old Market's infrastructure.The effort of the political committee—which comprises the foundation's leadership and is run out of its Market offices— is backed by Mayor Greg Nickels, but still awaits City Council approval for inclusion on the November ballot. Marlys Erickson, the Market Foundation's executive director and campaign manager for the committee, says this is the foundation's first official venture into campaigning. "We are assuming the Market levy will be on the ballot," Erickson says. "Expenses are already coming in, and we needed some money, so we've taken $165,000 from our reserve fund."Generally, under IRS rules, charities can contribute to issue campaigns and ballot measures such as the Market levy, but not to individual candidates. And Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission regulator Polly Grow says it is legal under city rules for a charity's political arm to receive funding from the charity itself.Though the foundation is generally marketed to donors as a benefactor of services to the needy—including the Pike Market Medical Clinic, a day care/preschool, and a senior center—Erickson says capital improvements fall under the foundation's purview as well. In the last fiscal year, for example, it contributed $577,000 toward clinic expansion, she says.According to the foundation's latest tax filing, in 2006, it received $943,000 in donations and public support for its programs ("corporate partners" include Starbucks, Nordstrom, Washington Mutual, Microsoft, and Seattle Weekly). However, revenues of $1.3 million were exceeded by expenses of $1.8 million, the foundation reported. The money the charity gave to its political arm this month is about equal to what it cost to run its childcare program back then."We look at the donation as if it were the zoo or the library in need of improvements," Erickson says, noting that those facilities are supported by their own foundations. "In that sense, we're no different."

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