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.
This is a stunning design failure on The Stranger’s part. (They endorsed Sawant, but that advertisement along the bottom of the cover makes it look like they’re endorsing her opponent.) pic.twitter.com/UhGZmE4ijo
— Paul Constant (@paulconstant) October 9, 2019