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As Seattle looks to rein in PAC cash, here’s how District 3 money stacks up

And then there were two.

With only Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant and Broadway Business Improvement Area head Egan Orion remaining after the city’s most expensive Primary battle, the race for District 3 money ramps up — even as another city council member is ready to introduce legislation to try to slow the escalating cost of getting elected in Seattle.

Orion was boosted by more than $156,000 in independent expenditures from the pro-business Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy during the primary, the biggest outside spending in the city. Amazon has contributed $250,000 to CASE and Vulcan has given $155,000, according to filings with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC). Some say this money lifted him over the line over other qualified candidates, including Seattle Public Schools Board member Zachary DeWolf.

“I think that Egan has the business community to thank for him getting through, absolutely,” a veteran Seattle political consultant said, adding that “the outside groups were able to move the needles where they needed to go roughly to boost Egan where his direct campaign couldn’t do it.”

At the same time, citywide Council member Lorena González has recently drafted legislation that would limit how much contributors could give to PACs and place more stringent regulations on foreign money in Seattle politics.

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Gonzalez has sent an ordinance to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission that would limit the fundraising ability of independent expenditure committees by limiting donations to $5,000 per person or corporation. Her proposal would also block companies with foreign ownership from supporting the PACs. The legislation won’t come before the council until 2020.

Orion was supported with thousands more from People for Seattle, a group led by former Mayor Tim Burgess. DeWolf, meanwhile, was the target of more than $12,000 in independent expenditures opposing his candidacy by the Burgess group, which currently has about $100,000 left to spend. Sawant had the same amount spent against her during the primary. One person close to Orion said the People for Seattle mailers didn’t really help the campaign.

CASE spent nearly that same amount against the incumbent during the primary.

“I think it would be naive to say that money didn’t play a role,” one person close to Orion said. “There’s no doubt that as a first-time candidate, Egan benefitted from increasing his name ID.”

The controversial Moms for Seattle spent over $33,000 supporting neighborhood activist Pat Murakami on mailers and Facebook advertisements in the final month of the campaign. A member of the group, which has $30,000 remaining in funds, said in an email, “We are still making our plans for the General Election and have not made any decisions yet around our independent expenditure strategy.”

No independent expenditures, which are made without collaboration with campaigns, have been made for the general election, so far, but with more than $351,000 left to dole out, Orion could benefit again from CASE’s help in the general election.

“It’s gonna go buck wild, man,” said the consultant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “And I think the Chamber smells blood; they could not be any happier right now.”

“It’s gonna be disgusting.”

District 3 voters could even see television advertisements for the campaign, multiple people say, a rare move, but a possible one in such a competitive and polarizing race. The only TV ad in the primary was a huge one from UNITE HERE Local 8 in support of District 7’s Andrew Lewis. The labor union spent $125,000 for ads on Comcast Spotlight and KIRO 7.

Public defender Ami Nguyen, pot entrepreneur Logan Bowers, and DeWolf had virtually no outside money backing them in the primary. The three of them raised over $270,000 combined for their campaigns, according to Public Disclosure Commission filings. Murakami brought in under $87,000.

Nguyen and Bowers each received more than $100,000 in vouchers, a fact that was not reflected in the results. They were the bottom two candidates in the primary, with neither able to muster 10% of the vote.

Orion’s voucher money has jumped since mid-July when CHS reported that the Pridefest executive director had under $50,000 in potential vouchers. As of August 22, that number has risen to more than $130,000. But hundreds of thousands of dollars are now off the table having gone to supporting candidates who failed to advance

Among the candidates who did not advance, there were more than $150,000 in vouchers that were set to open up for the general election. The dash for their supporters — and, by extension, their contributors — has begun with the Orion campaign already speaking with Bowers and trying to connect with Nguyen and DeWolf, according to one person close to Orion.

Nguyen declined to comment for this article.

The campaign believes that Murakami and Bowers voters, making up under 20% of the primary electorate, are anti-Sawant voters that Orion can appeal to come November.

People close to the Orion campaign say they want resources to go toward field organizing more than advertising, with one saying they hope to raise up to $250,000 and another saying they want to double the nearly $100,000 in campaign funds raised in the primary. Orion has more than $80,000 in Democracy Vouchers solely for the general election, as of Monday, on top of about $37,000 already redeemed during the primary.

Sawant is not participating in the voucher program because her campaign believes the fundraising limits that are part of the program are too limiting in the face of major spending on behalf of her opponents. Sawant has said the core of her decision to forego the Democracy Voucher program is her campaign’s concerns about spending caps in a race where the pool of spending to oppose her has grown after Amazon spent an “eye-popping $350,000 in 2017 to buy their mayor Jenny Durkan.”

Meanwhile, Sawant has raised nearly $300,000, according to PDC filings, an impressive sum that will likely leave the Orion campaign playing catch up for the next three months. Her campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Orion has raised 61% of his funds from District 3 — compared to Sawant’s 25% — and Amazon is the biggest employer of people contributing to his campaign, with nearly $12,000 coming from employees of the tech giant or Whole Foods, according to SEEC filings. Sawant is backed by about $1,800 in contributions from Amazon or Whole Foods workers and more than $4,000 from Microsoft employees.

“The council member has already outraised us; we have work to do to keep up,” one person close to Orion said. “She’s clearly appealing to a national electorate of socialists around the country and we’re going to have to do everything that we can to stay competitive with her.”

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17 thoughts on “As Seattle looks to rein in PAC cash, here’s how District 3 money stacks up

  1. I’m a whole lot more comfortable with local businesses spending to influence an election then out of state groups.

    • Yes. I wish Gonzales would be as concerned about the influence of out of city donations on local races as she is of local PACs. So far Sawant has received over $140,000 from people who don’t even live in Seattle. It’s unlikely that those donors have any real concern about District 3 residents finally having actual representation on the Council.

    • @CityOfVagrants
      I agree. Of course, businesses/corporations/landlords do not always have pure interests or histories and we the people must scrutinize them, but at least most of Orion’s supporters are actually FROM District 3 proper. Only 25% of Sawant’s funding is from within D3 AND she willingly chose not to participate in the voucher program? Sawant is the bought-candidate, not Orion.

      • Well-said! I would support Gonzalez’s proposed legislation IF she included out-of-state (or even out of King County) money in her plan to restrict contributions.

  2. Jake, you did a great job thoroughly breaking down the funding sources that support Mr. Orion’s campaign. Will you be dong a companion piece that gives us the same insight into Ms. Sawant’s campaign financing?

  3. “It’s gonna be disgusting.”

    Reasonable people might argue that it’s gotten increasingly so over the past six years, and we can hope for nothing better from the incumbent.

    And, because Kshama is such a firm believer in the ends justifying the means, how could she possibly complain about what the Chamber of Commerce is doing? They’re being good Leninists.

  4. Setting aside the fact that our incumbent councilmember has three times the number of donors within the district than her opponent, it’s really gross to write off small-dollar donors who happen to live outside D3 or Seattle.

    The problems the council addresses do not stop at I-5, Lake Washington, 145th St or the county line.

    • @Ryan Packer
      This is a good point and I want to know the headcounts, too. Where did you get this information? Only the dollar amounts are found in the above post.

    • Sawant takes her marching orders from a national socialist organization not from the people of the district she is meant to represent.
      While we can all agree that D3 issues don’t stop at the border of D3, the people of D3 deserve a representative who can address the issues that impact our daily lives.
      The problem here is that these issues may not fit the agenda of the national organization that worked so hard to get Sawant elected and is working even harder to keep her in office. They go into vulnerable areas, often populated with the disaffected and marginalized voters looking to get what they feel they “deserve”, they put up posters up with catchy phrases “Tax the Rich” , “Unplug Comcast” , “Seattle Deserves Rent Control” and people not usually interested in politics, especially not local politics, say to themselves “I do deserve rent control and rich people should be taxed!”
      In the mean time men, women and children are getting gunned down in her own district without a peep from Sawant, but if a property owner decides to sell to a developer which results in an Ethiopian owned restaurant having to move to a new location? Boom! There she is with her phony outrage and gentrification battle cries. Do you think she would do the same if a building that housed a Renee Erickson restaurant was being redeveloped?
      While getting people to vote should be applauded it cannot be at cost of meaningful representation and honest politicians.
      Sawant uses the exact same tactics as Trumps political engine and she, much like Trump, is not the mastermind behind this, they are just the figureheads that are willing to say and do whatever they are told to do by the people that got them there.
      It is “gross” to write off the small donors, luckily no one hear is doing that.

      • The problem with your analysis is that the biggest issues that impact our daily lives are *exactly* those you mention being highlighted by Sawant’s organization: high housing costs, our grossly unfair tax system, and unchecked corporate predation, especially against the poor. Those are one, two and three in my book as well.

        People are getting “gunned down” in every district, in every city in America. That’s hardly Sawant’s fault. The crux of this problem is that the gun lobby, despite its growing unpopularity with the public, still owns too many powerful politicians for any meaningful reform in that area. Voting out Sawant won’t change that a bit.

        I get why a lot of people, even self-identified progressives, don’t like Sawant. She has an admittedly unappealing personal style and there are aspects of the job that she just isn’t very good at. But she knows who working and middle-class families’ real adversaries are and she opposes them unequivocally, like virtually no one else in public office at any level. Through her uncompromising stance she has won major concessions and forced the city’s entire economic debate to the left, to everyone’s benefit except big business. That for me covers a multitude of sins. Orion may have his virtues but his kum-ba-ya messaging is not persuasive in light of his funding sources. I hope enough D3 voters, even those frustrated with Sawant, won’t take the bait. Leave your ballot blank if you must.

      • Small correction: she *leads* said organization. Everything she does is a conflict of interest, her ambition is national. She could care less about Seattle

  5. Here’s to an Orion victory in the election! Finally, a candidate that actually represents people who live in district 3! #shilling #dontevencare :D

  6. Why do you ignore reporting the large dollar amounts from the institutional sources of Sewant’s money—unions and a national socialist organization? They, of course, are entitled to contribute—just as business-oriented groups are entitled to contribute—but they are not entitled to anonymity. Sewant is at least as beholding to those groups as you imply Orion is to his supporters.