With ballots landing in mailboxes in just a couple of weeks and the November 5 General Election just a month away, campaigns for City Council are heating up — and so is the independent spending from Political Action Committees, which has soared to unprecedented heights.
For the final weeks of the run for the District 3 seat, CHS will keep you updated on the dollars with regular updates dedicated to looking at campaign finances. We’ll report where campaign money — whether from PACs or the candidates’ campaign coffers — comes from, and how it is spent.
With over $1 million raised in total and the two candidates headed to the general election with hundreds of thousands of dollars in their campaign coffers, the District 3 race keeps its top spot as the most expensive in the city. Incumbent Kshama Sawant has raised a total of $374,108; challenger Egan Orion tallied $296,728.
Some notable recent Orion backers include the famed glass artist Dale Chihuly and his wife who donated $500 each, and Scott Lindsay, a former adviser to Ed Murray and father of the “Seattle is Dying” trope.
Lindsay (who listed his 2012-2014 employer, according to SEEC filings) unsuccessfully challenged city attorney Pete Holmes in 2017 and, backed by business and neighborhood groups, authored the now-famous “System Failure” report at the core of the controversial Seattle is Dying documentary aired on Sinclair stations.
But the $1,500 from Chihuly and co were just a fraction of the money Orion was able to raise in the last few weeks.
In August, Orion received over $95,000 in contributions, and he has raised over $115,000 more in the last month. While Sawant, who didn’t participate in the Democracy Voucher program, has raised more in total, filings show Orion has overshadowed the incumbent when it comes to recent fundraising. In August, Sawant took in $57,000 and had around $67,00 more come in in the last four to five weeks.
Orion can also benefit from third parties fueling his election efforts. Political Action Committees have already spent $282,501 on Orion’s behalf in both the primary and general. Sawant has no PAC sponsors except Civic Alliance for A Progressive Economy, which has spent $91.24 on her behalf.
Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission data show that with $111,398 already spent on his behalf in the general election, Orion is the candidate receiving the highest amount of independent expenditure dollars. (see graph). Those dollars partly come from a PAC that has just recently joined the chorus of (more conservative-leaning) PACs supporting Orion. Just since early September, the Seattle Firefighters PAC has spent $57,744 on his behalf, on mailing and mostly on digital advertising (a whopping $37,000).
For now, that’s the most any PAC has spent in the general election city-wide. The PAC also supports Mark Solomon, Heidi Wills, Alex Pedersen, and Debora Juarez in other city races, which follows the endorsements of other PACs such as CASE, the political arm of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, People for Seattle as well as The Seattle Times’ editorial board.
Overall, CASE, People for Seattle and other PACs have already spent over a million dollars in this year’s city elections, $1,217,542, according to Seattle’s Ethics and Elections Commission. That number is already nearly double the total independent expenditures for council elections in 2015 and will likely rise in the coming weeks.
Citywide Council member Lorena González has recently drafted legislation that would rein in PACs power by limiting donations to $5,000 per person or corporation. The legislation won’t come before the Council until 2020.
This means companies like the San Francisco-based ride-hailing corporation Lyft can still pour $25,000 in the coffers of CASE, the chamber’s PAC primarily bankrolled by Amazon and other corporations like Comcast, Expedia, AT&T, Puget Sound Energy, Alaska Airlines as well as the Washington Association of Realtors. Rachel Marshall of Rachel’s Ginger Beer, where Orion held his primary election night party, has contributed $1,000 to CASE.
Orion was boosted by more than $155,000 from CASE during the primary, the most substantial outside spending in the city. Now, with Orion facing incumbent and socialist Kshama Sawant directly, CASE has spent over $53,000 so far on Orion in the general, more than it has on any other candidate in the general. Just in the last two weeks, it has spent over $42,000 on canvassing and mailing for Orion.
Still, filings with the Public Disclosure Commission show that Orion’s campaign heavily bets on mailers. It has spent $29,128 on mail in August, more than double than what Sawant spent on it that month ($13,913.68). PACs spent an additional $6,390.33 on Orion mailers in August.
Filings with the PDC show that while mailers are Orion’s most significant expenditure for that month, Sawant focuses on people. She is known to have a swarm of volunteers, and according to PDC filings, most of Sawant’s campaign expenses center on paying staffers, more than 14. (see graph). PDC filings show that Sawant pays employees an average of $1,929, Orion $1,222.63.
We’ll have more for you on the campaign’s shifting and — we’d bet — increasing expenditures for September when those reports roll in.
You can read all of CHS’s Election 2019 coverage here.
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