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.”