In the last week before ballots go out, the District 3 race to be fhe top two candidates to go through the Primary and onto the General Election in November appears to be all about the money. One D3 candidate recently got a big boost as the business-friendly Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce doled out its first chunk of cash to its endorsed candidates.
As part of a $307,000 dump, Egan Orion, the Broadway Business Improvement Area administrator who has said he wouldn’t accept campaign contributions from business political action committees (PACs), had $86,750 spent to benefit him by the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, the PAC run by the chamber, for a canvassing, telephone, and texting program; $12,450 for direct mail; and, $8,200 for campaign literature, according to late June filings with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC).
These three sums add up to $107,400 in independent expenditures — first reported by journalist Erica C. Barnett — to aid the flagging Orion campaign, which is getting more money than any other in any city council district, so far.
“It’s no surprise that corporate PACs have already spent more on District 3 than on any other in the city,” Council member Kshama Sawant said in an email. “This year, corporate PACs have made it clear that their top priority this election cycle is ‘anybody but Kshama Sawant’ for District 3.”
This money could serve as a much-needed stimulus for a candidate who has struggled to receive endorsements, sometimes finishing last in voting in local Democratic Party endorsement contests, despite strong ties fostered as head of the now-shuttered Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and as executive director of what Orion is quick to call the biggest single festival day in Seattle, Pridefest.
“I think CASE’s endorsement helps to shape the race,” Orion said in a text message, adding of Sawant: “she’s been demonizing the Metropolitan Chamber for years now and specifically in this election so the fact that I have their support may help the electorate see some strong delineation between my candidacy and that of Kshama Sawant.”
The fundraising cap was lifted in April after Sawant contributions exceeded $75,000.
“It is worth pointing out that it is the significance of out-of-Seattle donations to Council Member Sawant and the big money support from a New York-based political organization, Socialist Alternative, that has caused the Democracy Voucher program to be undermined and resulted in all candidates in this race being released from spending limits,” candidate Pat Murakami said in an email. “I believe a genuine Socialist would have participated in and abided by the rules of the Democracy Voucher program.”
The over $100,000 in campaign help is more than any challenger has raised so far, with incumbent Sawant raising over $200,000. As of July 8, only 23% of her money has come from within the district, which includes Capitol Hill and the Central District, while 50% came from outside Seattle city limits, according to SEEC. Only 10% of Orion’s more than $58,000 in fundraising was from contributors outside Seattle.
Sawant has received criticism for her outside support and the influence of Socialist Alternative, but she has never denied she isn’t “democratically accountable” to the organization. She also said during her re-election kick-off earlier this year that she expected “corporate PACs, big business and developer lobbyists” to pour money into the election race to try and “stop us.”
“Since Kshama is raising massive amounts of money from outside the district, it’s been tough for any of her challengers to compete on the fundraising side of things. So I welcome help from supporters large and small to help me get through the primary and compete head to head with Kshama in the general,” Orion said.
“I can’t tell you how many times at doors I’ve heard people say how their pleas to CM Sawant’s office were unanswered. We deserve a council member who will represent all voices in the district, not divide us into us vs them. There’s no them. It’s only us.”
Meanwhile, entrepreneur Logan Bowers and public defender Ami Nguyen have brought in just under $90,000 (17% outside Seattle) and $83,000 (18% outside), respectively, according to Public Disclosure Commission filings. Murakami, who was recently endorsed by activist group Speak Out Seattle, has raised over $72,000 (6% outside), and Seattle Public Schools Board member Zachary DeWolf has has gained traction since joining the race in April while also earning the endorsements of sitting council members Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena González despite sitting in last in fundraising with a total haul so far of just under $40,000 (8% outside).
Bowers said he has raised an additional $40,000 in democracy vouchers that have not yet been redeemed.
“At every opportunity, Kshama frames this election about whether D3’s council member works for Big Business or works for Socialist Alternative,” Bowers said, contacted through Twitter. “It’s clear to me voters instead want someone who works for them.”
“I’m the only major candidate that isn’t bought by special interests, business, or partisan ideology,” he added. “I’m here for my neighbors and it’s clear they know it.”
Speak Out Seattle, which hosted a campaign forum in May despite criticism over its positions against homeless encampments and tiny house villages, ranked Murakami as its top choice, writing on its website that she is “fully aligned with SOS’ positions on crime, homelessness and addiction/mental illness solutions. She is data-oriented and will be a strong advocate for improved public safety across the city.”
Orion earned second place in the organization’s endorsement process and Bowers was ranked third. The group called the election of either DeWolf or Sawant as “worst outcomes” on its website.
Bowers’s average contribution ranks the highest at $97 and Murakami is lowest at $73. The rest of the candidates have average contribution sizes in between those two numbers.
CASE’s coffers, which have been aided by $200,000 from Amazon and $130,000 from Vulcan, remain healthy with hundreds of thousands left to spend.
“Vulcan and other real estate corporations are deeply afraid of our growing movement for rent control,” Sawant said. “Corporate PACs are on track to shatter records for campaign spending, without the same limits as the voucher program or individual donors. Our grassroots campaign plans to shatter records too.”
“We’re incredibly proud that our campaign — which takes no money from corporations, CEOs, business lobbyists, or big developers — has now raised over $200,000, enough to cancel out the huge donation Amazon made to the CASE PAC earlier this year!”
As CHS has previously reported, Orion has also received money from executives at Amazon, the tech company frequently derided by Sawant.
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 gave $250.
Guy Palumbo, the Washington lawmaker who quit his post to lobby for Amazon recently, donated $250 as well.
South Seattle District 2 candidate Mark Solomon, Seattle Police Department crime prevention coordinator, is benefitting from just over $80,000 in CASE funds. Like Orion, Solomon is playing catch-up as he tries to gain ground on more progressive candidates with the August 6 primary less than a month away.
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