A current council member donates to Sawant challengers, Amazon execs particularly love one candidate, a surprising $ leader, and more in District 3’s campaign contributions

$500,558.That’s how much has already been raised in the battle over District 3’s seat on the Seattle City Council, making it by far the most expensive race in the city. District 6 comes in second with $376,520.

With the primary only six weeks away and ballots being sent out next month, things are likely to heat up, particularly now that the fundraising and spending cap has been lifted for all of the five D3 candidates using the city’s Democracy Voucher program to fuel their campaigns to unseat incumbent Kshama Sawant — who, notably, is not participating in the program.

Now challengers Logan Bowers, Pat Murakami, Egan Orion, Ami Nguyen, and Zachary DeWolf can also accept donations of up to $500 in the scramble to catch up with Sawant’s $163,677 raised. Bowers, with $87,910 in second place in terms of total funds raised and Nguyen with $78,358 in third, still have a long way to go.

One thing Bowers, a pot store entrepreneur and housing development proponent, has going for him when it comes to fundraising: out of all D3 candidates, he’s getting the most substantial donations, $94 average, followed by Egan Orion with $82, then Sawant ($77), Nguyen ($75) Dewolf ($74) and Murakami ($69).

Though Sawant could accept  $500 from the start of her campaign and Bowers only since April, most of her contributors donate much lower amounts: a majority (53%) gives something between 0 and $25, and three-quarters of donations to her campaign are less than $100. That number is only a little over half for Bowers, one of Sawant’s most vocal critics when it comes to big donors and campaign money.

“It’s unfortunate, as every candidate except Kshama, myself included, were perfectly happy to keep big money out,” Bowers said in a statement to CHS in April, when Sawant had raised over $75,000, clearing the way for Bowers to successfully appeal the SEEC to lift his fundraising and spending cap. In the same statement, Bowers took aim at Sawant’s “big out-of-state donors.”

It’s a common criticism of Sawant’s campaign, which has drawn scrutiny as the leading fundraiser in the city’s most expensive district race and the race with the most non-city dollars streaming in. About a quarter of the total raised in D3, $124,267, comes from outside city limits, $84,136 of which flowed into Sawant’s campaign.

“Outside of city limits” dollars doesn’t necessarily equal “out of state,” however. 58% of Sawant’s campaign money listed on her itemized contributions list (which is not yet updated with more recent, Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission-vetted data and does not list anonymous and unitemized contributions of $25 or less) comes from Washington, and roughly 7/10 of her campaign contributors live in Washington state. 

Of the itemized contributions, the average out-of-state donation to her campaign is about $120, compared to a Washington average of $74.

Alec Hannaford, who grew up in Seattle and was active with Socialist Alternative before he moved to California, donated $500 to Sawant’s campaign. “I think that it’s unique how she campaigns,” Hannaford, contacted by CHS through LinkedIn, said of Sawant. “The way that she isn’t beholden to big donors [but] beholden to her constituents is really inspiring. She doesn’t take that [corporate] money so she can stand up for ordinary people.”

He said he donated because the model of her campaign is something he’d like to see across the country and his new city, San Diego, and cited her role in the fight for a $15 minimum wage as an example. “Now presidential candidates are talking about it before no candidates were (…) I want to help her secure another term because of the implications of it on a nation-wide scale.”

Besides California, Sawant also received contributions from supporters in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Minnesota (see pie chart). Socialist Alternative, Sawant’s political organization, is headquartered in New York and has tried to get Socialist Alternative candidates elected in Boston (MA) and Minneapolis (MN), where Sawant also rallied for $15 minimum wage.

Though Sawant has received criticism for her out of state support and the influence of Socialist Alternative in her Seattle office, she has never denied she isn’t “democratically accountable” to the organization. Nor that the group wouldn’t play a role in her campaign, she said during her re-election kick-off earlier this year when she also noted that she expected “corporate PACs, big business and developer lobbyists” to pour money into the election race to try and “stop us.”

When it comes to big business, one of the key players is the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Last week, D3 candidate Egan Orion won the endorsement and financial backing of the chamber’s political action committee, CASE, which has over $888,000 in its coffers, $200,000 of which from Amazon

Orion, former head of the now-shuttered Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, said he will not take campaign contributions from business PACs, but the group is likely to be a big spender on his behalf. And even before the PACs have decided how they will allocate the funds among their preferred candidates, Orion— who was against what he called “half-baked” head tax but said he’d support new, similar efforts — is already receiving support from Amazon. Or execs, to be precise.

Among Orion’s contributors are the company’s DC-based Senior Vice President of Global Affairs, the director of State & Local Tax, Senior Manager of US State Public Policy, Vice President of Finance Operations, Director U.S. Public Policy, Vice President Public Policy, the CEO of Amazon Web Services, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and others, who all contributed $250.

Guy Palumbo, the Washington lawmaker who quit his post to lobby for Amazon recently, donated $250 as well.

Neither Palumbo nor any of the Amazon execs responded to requests for comment.

Amazon employees, the third largest employer in the state, are present on all of the candidates’ contributors list, though with different job levels. Many of the contributors who donated to Nguyen, Murakami, Sawant, and DeWolf work as software engineers, designers, and sometimes managers of finance and marketing. Bowers attracts more senior-level support from the company, such as the company’s Vice President of Prime Video (Americas), senior manager of Alexa Experiences and Devices, and others. Orion is also receiving support from small(er) business owners, such as Lee Rhodes of Glassybaby and Capitol Hill developer Liz Dunn (who also appears to have donated to DeWolf’s campaign). Neither responded to a request for confirmation or comment.

Meanwhile, Dunn’s former business partner, Scott Shapiro, contributed to the campaign of Logan Bowers because “he understands the challenges that the city and the district is going through,” Shapiro said. Asked to elaborate, Shapiro said: “Any of the issues that are facing the city today: dealing with security issues, crime going on in the city, whether it’s crime against property, whether it’s people destroying property using it illegally that prohibits other people from using it,” he said. “Also, [his] focus on making housing more plentiful, which is a gain; we’ll be able to house more people.”

Murakami, the candidate who has injected the most personal money into the campaign and has the fewest supporters from outside the city, also received support from someone whose name might ring a bell: Republican Gary Brose, the owner of a delivery and courier business who ran for Seattle mayor in 2017. Brose said he and Murakami had “a lot in common, in the sense that she is fiscally conservative, she has a business background, she has a good head on her shoulders.” He said he trusted her to “value our tax dollars,” and is in favor of her stance against safe injection sites, which he called “a terrible idea.”

Another notable name among the D3 contributors: Abel Pacheco, the former City Council D4 candidate and current interim D4 rep replacing Rob Johnson since April. Pacheco donated $10 to Nguyen and DeWolf each, among candidates in other districts.

“I think D3 can be better served by a different council member,” Pacheco said. About why, for him, that means not Kshama Sawant, he said: “As someone who has tried to be a collaborator, I think that her approach publicly and privately is not to work on behalf of either her district and her city,” Pacheco said. “I’ve made a genuine effort to collaborate (…) I don’t think she wants to work with others.”

Though it’s not an official endorsement, with his contributions and this statement, Pacheco joins two other council colleagues, Teresa Mosqueda, and Lorena González, in backing other D3 candidates. Mosqueda and González have endorsed DeWolf, a Seattle Public Schools board member. And as Crosscut reported recently, Mosqueda has “quietly campaigned against Sawant,” whom she once supported, noting that Sawant has made progress difficult by rejecting collaboration.

Another former endorser recently chose another candidate over Sawant: MLK Labor announced Wednesday night it has given its support in the D3 primary to Zachary DeWolf. With $37,086 raised, DeWolf has raised the least of all candidates.

Some of that is likely due to DeWolf entering the race late. His lag in fundraising was worrying Harriet Wasserman, a retired IT director for Seattle central and longtime political organizer who donated $350 to his campaign after interviewing DeWolf, Sawant, Orion and Bowers with her “informal” political group “Seattle’s Future.” “We were a little worried about viability. A priority for the group was contributions to him,” Wasserman said, touting his work on homelessness with King County All Home and his work on the School Board.

It remains to be seen if DeWolf and Orion, now armed with more endorsements, can catch up with the other candidates in terms of fundraising.

Murakami has raised slightly more than DeWolf and Orion, mostly thanks to democracy vouchers. But perhaps the most surprising catch-up is by public defender Ami Nguyen, who has lead a lower-profile public but effective fundraising campaign. She’s raised more than Orion, Murakami, and DeWolf, and has raised the most from within D3 (followed by Bowers with $36,115 and Sawant with $33,831) and the most with democracy vouchers — $57,100 total.

Madison Valley resident Shoshana Reiss-Reyes was one of many hundreds who gave $100 worth of democracy vouchers to Nguyen’s campaign. She met the candidate during a living room chat in her neighborhood with six or so other women, mostly mothers, many of whom also gave Nguyen their vouchers. “I wanted to hear more and wanted to give her a chance to keep going with [her campaign],” Reiss-Reyes said.

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12 thoughts on “A current council member donates to Sawant challengers, Amazon execs particularly love one candidate, a surprising $ leader, and more in District 3’s campaign contributions

    • No, you can use them for anyone but the people’s candidate Kshama – who prefers to leave herself open to any money and influence that can come her way. viva la revolution!

      • “Open to any money” is just flat out false. Sawant is entirely grassroots funded, and she of course doesn’t accept PAC/business funding (not that businesses/PACs would donate to her or ‘spend on her behalf’ ha).

        Primary candidates using democracy vouchers have a maximum spending limit of $75,000 for the primary, and as we see now, all these other candidates have to drop out of the program. So yes, your vouchers are useless, and if the other candidates were being honest they wouldn’t have accepted the democracy vouchers from the beginning.

        The real problem is the influence of PAC money floating like a cloud over the election. 100k is a lot for a candidate to raise, but it’s dwarfed by the million dollars in PAC money about to be showered on whoever will be Sawant’s competition after the primary shakes out. To call some working Joe’s $500 ‘big money’ because they’re inspired by Sawant is just totally disingenuous in light of the actual big money being spent by business.

      • Democracy vouchers are not “worthless” in D3.

        Participating candidates (everyone except Sawant) can still collect and redeem vouchers.

        The city has released participating candidates from the $75,000 primary spending cap and the $250 contribution cap due to Sawant’s fundraising. They have not withdrawn their participation in the Democracy Voucher program.

      • Her house isn’t valued in the multi-millions, just bouncing around $750 K, quite a run-up from the purchase price. But she did get a golden parachute in Vivek’s marital buyout, presumably much of that in Microsoft stock. Have you ever wondered why Kshama doesn’t vilify Microsoft as she does Amazon? Occam can explain.

  1. Thank you for this detailed and illuminating article about campaign financing in D3.

    The comments by three current Council members, about Sawant’s lack of working collaboratively, are very interesting. It’s “her way or the highway.” Such arrogance is not a great quality for a Councilmember.

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