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Di$trict 3: Amazon pumps over $1M into Seattle elections — What it means for District 3

Sphere of influence (Image: Amazon)

Remember that time when we reported that independent spending from Political Action Committees had soared to unprecedented heights? That was a week ago.

Campaign finance has become even more, um, unprecedented this week with the announcement Tuesday that Amazon is pouring an additional $1.05 million into CASE, the political arm of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, right when ballots are sent to voters this week.

That brings the local corporation’s spending on this year’s local elections to $1.45 million, more than any other union or Political Action Committee.

With $241,257 already spent on his behalf by CASE (mostly on mail and canvassing), D3 candidate Egan Orion is its largest beneficiary.

To give you a sense of the magnitude of this week’s contribution: Amazon’s total contribution to the PAC now adds up to more than the combined $1.27 million City Council candidates opposed by the PAC have raised. That group includes incumbent Kshama Sawant in D3, who has raised the most of any council candidate — $387,730.

“The money CASE has raised is from local companies who care about the future of this city,” Markham McIntyre, executive director of CASE, said in a statement. “The status quo isn’t working: we have a dysfunctional, toxic environment at City Council, and employers, including our city’s largest private employer, want a return to good government.”

The contribution brings CASE’s total spending power for this election up to $2.68 million, of which it has spent $1.3 million.

In a statement, Orion called the influx of PAC money in city politics this year “completely out of scale with the grassroots campaign myself and many others are trying to run and is proving to be a distraction from the real issues.” 

In the statement, Orion also took a dig at his opponent by noting that he built his campaign around Democracy Vouchers (Orion is now one of the 11 candidates who have reached the maximum voucher distribution for the entire election cycle) and “in-district donations while my opponent has rejected vouchers in favor of a massive out of state fundraising effort.”

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission and state Public Disclosure Commission data show 70% of Sawant’s contributors live in Washington, and 61% of the total money her campaign has raised comes from Washington. 26% of Sawant’s contributions come from within D3, to Orion’s 61%. At the start of her campaign, Sawant said she would not participate in the Democracy Voucher program because her campaign believed the fundraising limits of the program would be too limiting in the face of “likely major spending” on behalf of her opponents.

In a fundraising email Tuesday, Sawant’s campaign called Amazon’s CASE contribution “a flagrant attempt to blow up Seattle’s democratic process.”

“It is also a call to action for ordinary people – we cannot allow Bezos to buy this election,” Sawant said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Rachel Lauter, executive director of advocacy group Working Washington, called the move an attempt at “hostile takeover of Seattle’s local government.”

“Amazon knows it can’t win by fighting Seattle’s record of helping working families with a $15 minimum wage, paid sick days, and secure scheduling, especially since it just cut health coverage promised to all of its Seattle grocery workers, and paid $0.00 in federal income tax last year.”

Amazon has also contributed $400,000 to the Keep Washington Rolling campaign, which opposes Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976.

On Thursday, King County Democrats and the 43rd, 36th, and 37th Legislative District Democrats groups will host a press conference which will feature a selection of City Council candidates including Sawant, and others, “to speak out against corporate PAC money in local races” at the Amazon Spheres. Orion wasn’t included in the list.

For now, it is unclear how CASE plans to spend its newfound money in the three weeks left before the election. A spokesperson for CASE did not respond to CHS’s question about its future D3 spending, but if the PACs earlier spending and particular attention to D3 are any indication, things are likely to heat up in the city’s most expensive race.

Since last week, CASE has spent $27,980 on canvassing for Orion, plus $3,626 in pro-Orion and another $3,626 in anti-Sawant mailers. It marks the first time in this race that CASE is engaging in anti-Sawant expenditures.

Those numbers are likely to rise in the coming days and weeks. In our third installment of the series next week, we’ll have more on where and how CASE and other PACs, as well as the D3 campaigns, are spending their money in the last stretch of the race.

Can’t wait? Need more detail? D3 resident Ford Nickel, who is not affiliated with any campaign, made a Sankey diagram last week showing where the money is coming from and how it is flowing into the campaigns. You can check out his work here.

Oh, and before you go, Egan Orion’s controversial The Stranger cover ad that spurred some Twitter outrage and two formal complaints, including one with the PDC from a Stranger writer (the other with SEEC) last week cost the campaign $6,300.

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32 thoughts on “Di$trict 3: Amazon pumps over $1M into Seattle elections — What it means for District 3

  1. Socialists’ hate the rich more than they have compassion for the poor. Prove me wrong.

    If you actually look at who is spending their own time, efforts and resources to help the disadvantaged, it’s generally not socialists. Using government coercion to force others to pay to help the poor is not compassionate. Using your own time, effort and resources to directly help people is. We can all do better than this.

    • @CD Conservative: It’s possible to vote for Sawant without identifying as a socialist and it’s possible to help the disadvantaged without claiming allegiance to any political ideology. We can all do better than spewing false divisive rhetorical generalizations.

      • Very true Sasha. I really wish we had raked choice voting as I think we would tend to get public policy that more accurately represents the majority of voters. I apologise if I contributed to the “Us vs Them” rhetoric. We the average citizens do poorly when there is a dearth of choices and/or power is consolidated into a few hands (whether that is large corporations or large government). The narrative of “power to the people” resonates because that is truly what would be best for all of us. Unfortunately those that are pushing that narrative mean “power to the government”. Our friends in China can attest to that extreme not working out well for the masses.

    • “Using government coercion to force others to pay”…. You mean taxes? WA has one of the most regressive tax structures in the nation, meaning the poor and working class pay a far greater share of their income in taxes than the wealthy.

      It’s wrong to assume that the current structures in place are equitable and that a reorientation of the city’s tax policy amounts to “theft.” I’m no millionaire (by a **long** shot) and still find it obvious that I could pay more in taxes and be AOK. Some exec earning 5-20x what I do would likewise be just fine. No one likes takes, but it morally indefensible to say that the rich should continue to pay less, proportionally, than the poor.

  2. This is great! There’s a lot that needs to be done. When it comes to growth, the city put the cart before the horse [so to speak], the current city council has dragged it’s feet far too long, and our community is paying the price.

    • My “group” 100+ are NOT voting for Sawant. We have made complaints that her canvassers have entered our secure buildings and shoved flyers under our doors. Her flyers look hideous-what a waste of money.

    • @Rusty I can see the ‘replace city council’ sentiment, but replace them with what? A handful of corporate candidates riding a wave of PAC and conservative money?

      That Orion was able to blow past all the other primary candidates because he was the PACE candidate is offensive to democracy in Seattle. Last week alone PACE spent close to 30k on paid doorknockers to astro-turf for the campaign. That’s not democracy looks like.

    • Ok but Sawant doesn’t care about how gun violence is impacting our neighborhood. I’ve got a baby so I’m out & about constantly — and three of our normal spots were shot up this summer. A young man died. When I called Sawant’s office to ask their response, they had no idea that any of this had happened. Later they pushed for speed bumps. Sawant is on the record opposing police presence even when other neighborhoods are getting a boost to curb the predicable summer spike.

      How are you going to make our neighborhood safer, since your candidate refuses to?

  3. Quick question to those concerned about Amazon “buy” city council:

    Are you opposed to Amazon or Microsoft spending to support issues you agree with, like stopping Tim Eyeman’s anti transit initiative, increasing funding of public transit and building Cascadia high speed rail?

    Basically, do you think large employers as stakeholders should be able to spend their money to influence public policy?

      • Amazon pays any and all taxes that it’s legally obligated to pay. The last figure I saw for local taxes was $250 million dollars that they contributed at the state level.

    • Yes I am concerned. It’s the principle of the matter. Even if they happen to agree with me, I don’t want corporations messing in local affairs and find their involvement repugnant and thoroughly undemocratic.

      I’ve doorknocked in the past in my neighborhood as a volunteer and had lots of great conversations with my neighbors about politics, Sawant, and the issues. Often the people I’ve spoken with disagree, but at the end of the day we’re all sharing the community and entitled to make our case. I would be happy to speak to an Egan volunteer any day of the week and see where they’re coming from.

      Now consider how quaint that compares to Amazon, a near-trillion dollar global corporation, casually throwing out $1.5mil to a PAC who in turn pays an astro-turfing company 30k in a single week(!) to hire paid doorknockers. That doesn’t feel wrong to you? If the community wants an initiative passed we can decide upon it ourselves without the influence of a few mega-corporations

  4. @TurnCal A bunch of us live in different buildings and all of us have had Sawant people shoving things under our individual doors. Sorry if I didn’t make myself clear. I own my condo no other property.

    • Actually NO. NOT “to be sure”. Norwirhstanding Marissa’s reprehensible homophobic innuendo, what proof do you have that Orion is one teeny tiny little iota beholden to Amazon? None. You’re jumping to the totally unfounded conclusion that just because they donated to Orion, there must be some quid-pro-quo involved. Says WHO? Where’s your proof? Maybe they despised Savant so much they’ll donate to whoever they dislike less? You don’t know. This bullshit keeps getting repeated over and over as if it’s fact. Well— where’s the proof?

      • Jim of course he’s beholden to the chamber of commerce. He literally ran the Cap Hill CC until its dissolution, and of all the varied candidates running in the primary, Orion was the one who got the money, even though Dewolf was clearly a more viable, experienced candidate.

        Companies like Amazon and Vulcan don’t throw around millions of dollars because they have a personal grudge. They’re making a strategic and calculated bet on someone who will surely operate in their interest. By the end of this campaign PACE will probably have spent a million dollars on the Orion campaign and far outweigh what Orion’s actual campaign raised.

        If Orion weren’t a shill, he wouldn’t have applied for the PACE endorsement and he would loudly reject this spending and tell PACE that his team could do it on their own without the help of a shadow campaign spending 30k/week on astro-turfers. Heck he’d say **anything** negative about **any** of the corporations backing PACE. If there’s not an explicit quid pro quo then there’s total alignment, and I find both possibilities repugnant.

        Also glad we can both agree on Marissa.

      • All speculation. No proof. Being a candidate that’s more moderate and likely more business-friendly than Sawant isn’t too tough. Practically everyone would be. That’s a far cry from being beholden to Amazon. Pure, wide-brush-smearing innuendo, taken as a given, when it’s not.
        BTW, your statement that Dewolf “was clearly a more viable, experienced candidate” is also pure subjective opinion and speculation. I recall reading a lot of opinions put forth by people who were very turned off by his candidacy. I’m not saying I agree with that— I actually have no pro or con opinion on him, but a lot people seemed to have been unimpressed.

  5. Whatever gets Kshama voted out. Some have said “be careful what you wish for.” I’ll take my chances. It’s time to get rid of the incessant toxic political bomb that is Kshama once, and for all.

    Vote like the lives of vulnerable mentally ill, drug addicted, homeless Seattleites depend on it, because they do.

    Kshama has made the lives of struggling people worse than any politician in Seattle’s history.

    • Well I think most people’s critique is that her dogmatic socialism leads her to constantly grandstand and make unworkable proposals.

      I mean, “loud, unworkable proposal delivered with a false sense of moral superiority in a plodding, un-telegenic manner” is pretty much her calling card.

      It’s obvious she is hoping to (likely) move from the city council to taking over Pramila Jayapal’s seat in the House.

      Which would be an unmitigated disaster, btw. Can you imagine her in Congress? Seattle would be a laughingstock, and she’d be able to spout her unworkable nonsense from an even larger bully pulpit.

    • “Kshama has made the lives of struggling people worse than any politician in Seattle’s history.”

      That’s a bit of an exaggeration especially since she helped push through a new minimum wage (which affects those struggling) and her main focus is affordable housing. She proposed 480 million for it and the council knocked it back down to 100.

      “Sawant is calling for the City to cut the Navigation team and divert those funds to an approach that is more focused on finding services for those living on the street.”

      If anything, Durkan has been worse for those struggling. Two budget rounds now, she has hired people beforehand and then insisted on passing a budget to keep paying them. And then, they don’t do their jobs.

      If she was a middle-aged white dude who was being loud and interrupting other people, I wonder if folx would find her so grating. Happens all the time in IT and people just gloss right over it…

  6. I’m amused the same Sonics looking ad for Egan appeared at the top of this article for me as is pictured on the front of The Stranger.

    Guess we know where some of the money went now.

  7. I don’t like the idea that any candidate, including Egan, uses paid canvassers…..because I think canvassers should be volunteers who genuinely and enthusiastically support a candidate, as opposed to just wanting to make some money. But if that’s what it takes to defeat Sawant, so be it.

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