Lone Accusation Prompts City of Seattle to Launch Investigation of Bicycle Advocacy Groups

October 11, 2011; Source: Seattle Post-Intelligence  |  To date we haven’t seen too many reports of bicycle advocacy organizations being charged with misuse of funds. But this report from Seattle is a good reminder that nonprofits take on issues of all sorts—including advocating for transportation alternatives—and this can expose them to bomb-throwing opponents.

Two Emerald City bicycle advocacy groups, the Cascade Bicycle Club (CBC) and the Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC), received six-figure grants from the Seattle city government for education and outreach activities. Now, a critic has charged that they are using the money to pay for advocacy of Proposition 1, which would raise car tab (registration) fees in Seattle by $60 a year. The extra fees would capitalize a $204-million fund for transportation alternatives such as streetcars and bicycles. By charging that the two groups are using city money to promote Proposition 1, the unnamed critic—described by the PI only as a “concerned citizen”—has managed to prompt an investigation by the city’s Ethics and Elections Commission.

It seems that the concerned citizen’s evidence consists entirely of his own suspicions. What’s more, the citizen has his or her own axe to grind: He or she is opposed to the CBC getting any city money at all and wants the money spent on community centers and police instead. (Except the funds come from a dedicated transportation fund and cannot be used for community centers or police.) The PI’s article seems to take the side of the CBC and the TCC, implying that there has been no misuse of funds and that the ethnics investigation is sort of a frivolous waste of time.

Vigilant government oversight of nonprofits is all to the good, and NPQ Newswire readers know we spend a regrettably large amount of time detailing nonprofit malfeasance. But we hope we have not reached the point where any random critic with a burr under his saddle can lob a charge of misappropriated funds against a nonprofit he or she doesn’t like, just in order to launch a dopey, money-wasting investigation. —Rick Cohen

  • M.J. Kelly

    The complaint has been dismissed: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/politicsnorthwest/2016498130_complaint_against_cascade_bicy.html

    Given that Mr. Gene Hoglund (he went on camera and is not anonymous) has filed similar complaints in the past, all of which have been dismissed by the ethics committee, your final assessment of the situation is accurate. How do NPs engage in vital advocacy work and prevent these reputation-damaging, wasteful and untrue charges from being lodged? Is this an intimidation technique that will have a chilling effect?

  • rick cohen

    dear MJ: Sorry that someone tweeted “anonymous”; my article didn’t say that, but because I didn’t mention the guy’s name, I guess that was the interpretation. Sorry. But yes, you and I agree about the dynamic.