Two Seattle nonprofit groups accused of misusing city funds

Two Seattle nonprofit groups accused of misusing city funds
Editor's Note: This story has been updated from its original version, which incorrectly reported that the Cascade Bicycle Club and the Transportation Choices Coalition received $190,000 from the city of Seattle this year for outreach and education. This is incorrect. According to the Seattle Department of Transportation The Cascade Bicycle Club Foundation has received more than $190,000 from the city for education and outreach programs dating back to the Nickels' Administration. We apologize for the error.

SEATTLE -- Two prominent bicycle advocacy groups are being accused of improperly using city money to fund a controversial ballot measure.

Concerned citizen Gene Hoglund insists something isn't quite right with the Cascade Bicycle Club and the Transportation Choices Coalition.

"There are some issues here -- it doesn't smell right," said Hoglund.

He's worried both nonprofit groups are using city money to fund Proposition 1, which, if passed, would raise city car tab fees by $60 to fund city transportation projects.

But both groups say that's not the case, and the proof is in their financial documents.

"The CBC did not use any money from the city for any political work," said Craig Benjamin of the Cascade Bicycle Club.

The city's Ethics and Elections Commission is investigating to see whether the groups violated election law.

"This is frivolous waste of taxpayer money, and we're confident it will be dismissed very shortly," Benjamin said.

Rob Johnson, Executive Director of Transportation Choices Coalition, also said the allegations are not true.

"Gene has leveled this allegation on a couple different occasions," Johnson said. "It’s not a surprise -- this is the kind of thing that Gene has been leveling towards Transportation Choices and other organizations for years now.”

Johnson says Hoglund wrongfully accused TCC of improperly using city money in 2008; both the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission and the State Auditor in another complaint filed in 2009 found no wrongdoing.

Hoglund opposes Prop 1 and campaigns for Citizens Against Raising Car Tabs.

The Problem Solvers have learned from the Seattle Department of Transportation that the Cascade Bicycle Club Foundation received over $190,000 dollars from the city dating back to the Nickel's administration for various outreach and education projects.

And Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn recently hired former Cascade Bicycle Club member Tim Hiller as a policy adviser.

"It doesn't sound right to me," said Hoglund. "At a very time when they're shutting down community centers and withholding police funds, they're giving this kind of money to some of which you'd call their friends."

The mayor says he wants the investigation to be conducted.

"I expect that they're following campaign rules," he said.

SDOT'S Rick Sheridan says the monies received by both groups dates back to the Nickel's administration as part of the city's 10 year Bike Master Plan.

Sheridan adds the money comes from a dedicated transportation funding source and can't be used for any other department. "They're helping us educate the public, especially children and schools about bicycle safety and travel, " said Sheridan.

Regardless, Hoglund believes the public has a right to know.

"It's an issue that the people should know about -- how much money the CBC is getting at a time when we don't have any money," he said.

The city says education and outreach are parts of the city's bike master plan. In 10 years, the city hopes to triple the number of people bicycling in the city, and reduce the number of bicycle crashes by a third.