Sound Transit increased payments of public money to political advocacy groups leading up to the 2016 election

Aug 16, 2017

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Key Findings

  1. Sound Transit, a Puget Sound regional transit agency, regularly gives public money to and helps govern organizations that then give money to campaigns and influence the passage of measures that benefit Sound Transit.
  2. Between January 2008 and June 2017, Sound Transit gave $2.08 million in public money to special interest groups in the form of annual dues and sponsorships.
  3. Between 2008 and 2017, Sound Transit gave Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) $318,620 in public money, more than double compared to the previous decade.
  4. Despite a warning in 2009 from the State Auditor not to purchase sponsorships at nonprofits’ annual fundraising events, Sound Transit officials continue to purchase sponsorships.
  5. The legislature should examine the expenditures of public money by Sound Transit to advocacy groups. If they find membership dues and sponsorship transactions to be legal, they should decide if the policies that allow these practices should be allowed to continue.


Sound Transit is a regional transit agency that builds and operates Link light rail, Sounder commuter rail, and express buses in parts of King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. It says its mission is to “plan, build, and operate mass transit service throughout Central Puget Sound.”

Some of Sound Transit’s public spending, however, does not seem consistent with its mission and may be inappropriate. In response to public disclosure requests from the Washington Policy Center (WPC) in 2008, Sound Transit provided us a list of non-governmental interest groups that have received direct financial contributions (in the form of membership dues) from the agency since 1996. We submitted another request this year to review contributions for the more recent decade since our last report in 2008. 

Our public records requests and the recommendations we provide in this report are an effort to ensure transparency and accountability with spending transportation taxes in Washington state. In providing this information, Washington Policy Center is interested in the proper role of government and how tax money is spent in compliance with the state constitution and the legal authority granted to regional government agencies like Sound Transit.

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