In Washington State, candidate Tiffany Smiley is running a strong campaign against Democrat incumbent Patty Murray. WSJ writer Kim Strassel reports that three corporations…the Seattle Times, the Seattle Seahawks, and Starbucks…have sent certified letters to the Smiley campaign with accusations of “trademark infringement” for the appearance of their logos in campaign video ads. These all look like fair use to me. In “Cup of Coffee,” Smiley stands in front of a derelict building. Barely visible at the top, and seen backward, is the store’s faded Starbucks sign. Ms. Smiley hits Ms. Murray for rising crime, while the ad flashes two Seattle Times headlines, one of which reads: “Starbucks to Close 5 Seattle Stores Over Safety Concerns.”
This resulted in a complaint from the Seattle Times about “unauthorized use of The Seattle Times logo and two headlines” in violation of the paper’s “copyright and trademark.” For its part, Starbucks complained the campaign was appropriating its intellectual property, and complaining it might “create an unfounded association in the minds of consumers between Starbucks and your campaign.” The Seahawks complaint was equally or more ridiculous.
I don’t know how many people outside of Washington State have anything to do with the Seattle Times or the Seahawks, but Starbucks is a national chain with a lot of customers, many of whom are not Democrats and are especially not Democrats of the Patty Murray variety. The behavior of Starbucks in this matter is not very respectful of those customers, and I’d also question whether it is consistent with SBUX fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders.
There is also the question of whether actions like this represent in-kind contributions to a political campaign. Indeed:
The Smiley campaign on Thursday filed a Federal Election Commission complaint, charging the paper with providing the Murray campaign a prohibited in-kind contribution. It turns out that Ms. Murray has also used a Seattle Times headline in her ads. Her “First 2016 Ad” sports the newspaper’s logo under the headline: “Patty Murray’s and Paul Ryan’s Teamwork Is a Model for Congress.” It seems the Times has a different legal standard for candidates it endorses.
As the FEC complaint notes, the Smiley campaign would have to spend an estimated $5,000 to remove and update the ad—“costs that Patty Murray does not have to accrue.” It cites FEC regulations that provide “if a corporation makes its resources available for free, it must do so for all candidates.”
If you’re not familiar with Patty Murray, she is the individual who, following the 9/11 attacks, said about Osama bin Laden:
He’s been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful.
Michelle Malkin, from 2009: “I’ll never forget interviewing her many years ago when I worked for the Seattle Times editorial board. We were talking about federal entitlement spending. I asked her about FICA taxes. She didn’t know what I was talking about; when I said “payroll taxes,” she still had a frozen blank look on her face.”
Murray has also shown herself to be a nasty bigot. When lobbying against a contract award for an Air Force tanker plane to Northrop Grumman, she said:
“I have stood on the line in Everett, Wash., where we have thousands of workers who go to work every day to build these planes. I would challenge anybody to tell me that they’ve stood on a line in Alabama and seen anybody building anything.”
Let’s hope that Tiffany Smiley prevails, despite the forces arrayed in support of Murray. And you might want to let Starbucks know what you think of their behavior in this matter, and whether it is likely to affect your future patronage of their stores.