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Report: Seattle campaign cash disproportionately flows from ‘rich whites’ on Capitol Hill’s eastern slopes

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 12.19.53 PMJust 1.5% of Seattle residents gave to political campaigns in 2013, and much of that money came from residents of predominantly wealthy, white areas on Capitol Hill and Lake Washington’s shores.

In its recent report, Sightline Institute mapped campaign giving in Seattle and found neighborhoods like Madison Park, Madrona, and Leschi to be among the most prominent “big money” zones in the city. The Seattle researchers also found one of the largest, high density areas of political giving fell squarely on Capitol Hill.

“The disparity in political giving between poorer neighborhoods home to more people of color and wealthy, white neighborhoods is stark,” said the report’s author, Sightline executive director Alan Durning.

To level the playing field, the report’s authors are backing Seattle’s Honest Elections Initiative. In addition to reducing the maximum donation amount from $700 to $500, I-122 would institute an opt-in system of public campaign financing funded through a small property tax levy. The program would give voters $100 “democracy vouchers” that they would then give to candidates to fund their campaigns.

Sightline’s report showed the Capitol Hill-centered Council District 3 to be the biggest geographical source of major campaign giving in local elections, followed by parts of downtown and Upper Queen Anne. Half of total donation dollars in 2013 came from just 1,683 contributors, or 0.3 percent of the city’s adults, according to the report. Not surprising, the report also found a strong correlation between political giving and homes with views.

Council District 3 recently became the most moneyed race among the nine City Council races this year. A June spike in donations to City Council member Kshama Sawant and challenger Pamela Banks helped push the total contribution amount in the race to just over $500,000, according to data from the city’s Ethics and Election Commission. Sawant’s campaign has repeatedly pointed out that her average contribution size — currently at $114 — has remained significantly lower than Banks’ $261.

UPDATE: This mapping of contributors who gave more than $500 to campaigns in 2013 gives another view of the Hill’s money influence:

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 10.04.57 AM

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15 thoughts on “Report: Seattle campaign cash disproportionately flows from ‘rich whites’ on Capitol Hill’s eastern slopes

  1. thanks for covering this. I’d pay a lot more attention to candidates if I thought they were paying attention to our issues and not just their fat cat donors.

  2. Oh good. Another property tax. I was getting worried, it had been at least 2 days since the last proposed property tax– I was afraid we’d run out of ways to soak homeowners.

    • But at least this one would be “opt-in” so that it wouldn’t happen automatically…a property owner would have the choice.

      • The article states that “I-222 would institute an opt-in system of public campaign financing funded through a small property tax levy.”

        Perhaps I misinterpreted this, but it sounds like the levy would be voluntary. This would certainly be a unique property tax compared to the usual, which everyone pays.

      • The tax is mandatory. The candidates may opt in but must agree to spending limits. Why a property tax? Should property owners be the only ones who pay to encourage participatory democracy? Everyone should pay for that and exercise their rights accordingly.

  3. If this passes I will happily join a lawsuit. Everyone can contribute to campaigns with time, treasure or money. “Rich” people should not be forced to pay for “poor” people to vote for people they might strongly disagree with. I see a big market for vouchers too. Think they won’t get sold to the highest bidder? Seattle has very low contribution rates. If you can’t afford to give $700 or less to your favorite candidate, work in a phone bank or stuff envelopes.

  4. However, Sawant’s campaign has conveniently NOT pointed out that more than 35% of her donations come from outside of Seattle including more than 20% from out of state. (For Banks its about 12% and 2%).

  5. At some point someone is going to have to explain to me what “disproportionately white” means in Seattle. I have read two articles this morning that use the phrase. I would like to see actual numbers because the term seems to be thrown around willy nilly.

    As far as this article goes it is not shocking that the areas of town that have the most money donate more.

    • You have to keep the end-game in mind. First you point out that rich people contribute more. Then you point out that those rich areas have mostly white people in them. Finally you point out that Sawant’s big competitor(s) draw their support from those same areas, allowing you to imply rich white people are against Sawant so they must be, you know, racist or something. Just in keeping with the consistent class warfare theme of the Sawant campaign.

      • Just a reminder to all, Pam Banks is a woman of color. Neither more so nor less so than Councilmember Sawant. So, if the whites of these affluent areas are supporting Pam Banks, race appears to have nothing to do with it.