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Di$trict 3: Orion drops new ad about campaign funding, Sawant has cash ‘EMERGENCY’

A screenshot from the new Orion TV ad

Meanwhile, some our taking the production of pro-Sawant campaign materials into their own hands (Image: @NoBatteries)

“Who is funding our local elections?”

If you ask D3 city council candidates Egan Orion and incumbent Kshama Sawant, they’ll tell you to look in very different directions for the answer to the question that has become a flashpoint overshadowing other issues in this year’s election.

From the start, Sawant said the election would be a referendum on “who runs Seattle: Amazon and big business, or working people.”

Yesterday, a week after Amazon poured over $1M into the city council election, Orion launched a new ad with a voiceover leveling a de facto response to Sawant’s early rallying cry: ”Who has a voice in City Hall? The Socialist Alternative party or your neighbors right here in Seattle?”

CHS takes a closer look at the ad, plus, give you some campaign war chest updates as well as more insight into what exactly candidates are spending their money on, below.

Orion wants to talk about campaign finance too:  Orion’s new ad, in which he touts his local support, is titled “Who is funding our local elections?

Some, surely, would respond “Amazon,” but the 30-second clip doesn’t mention the cash the corporate behemoth and others have pumped in local elections via CASE, the political arm of the Chamber of Commerce, which has supported Orion with over $300,000 in independent expenditures. 

The ad contrasts Orion, who has redeemed over 5,000 Democracy Vouchers (with close to 9,000 vouchers designated to the campaign) with Sawant, who did not participate in the program. The ad also suggests Sawant doesn’t have as much support from within the city and district as Orion.

To what extent that’s true depends on how you look at it. 91% of Orion’s campaign contributors live in Seattle, to Sawant’s 60%, and 58% live in District 3, to Sawant’s 41%. Most of Orion’s funds, $230,206, come from within D3, about double of what Sawant has raised from within the district, $112,848. That’s respectively 60% and 27% of their raised totals. But what the ad doesn’t say is that Sawant has 864 more donors from within the district than Orion.

Amazon’s donation also (kind of) benefits Sawant: Though it is likely that Amazon’s $1M contribution to CASE will benefit Orion greatly (he’s one of CASE’s largest beneficiary with $338,843 spent on his behalf, though Heidi Wills in D6 has taken the top spot thanks to recent $312,606 worth of CASE expenditures on her behalf) the news worked somewhat in her favor as well. Since the announcement of Amazon’s contribution, Sawant’s campaign has raised over $17,000, according to Public Disclosure Commission data.

“EMERGENCY”? As it turns out, the (all-caps included) “EMERGENCY: Amazon drops a $1 million bomb” fundraising email Sawant’s campaign sent out last week was not so much hyperbole as necessity. Data show that Sawant had and has little cash on hand. As of yesterday, Sawant had spent $381,824 of her total $419,813 raised. Orion has spent $190,593 of his $380,334, meaning he is sitting on five times as much cash as Sawant heading into the last two weeks of this election (see graph).

What are the candidates spending their money on? Sawant and Orion have both spent upwards of 80k from early September until last week on their campaign. Orion spent about $8,000 more than Sawant, $89,161. Orion’s highest cost is advertising, roughly $30,400 from September through mid-October, mostly on TV ads on Comcast Premium, “CMDY”, CNN, and MSNBC. Orion spent twice as much as Sawant on flyers and mail.

Sawant spends most of her funds on her campaign staff of over 14 people, over $46,000 in total (see graph). Another significant cost is software the campaign uses for, among other things, donations.

Orion has also paid canvassers in the last couple of weeks, for a total of $1,200 (campaign staff said they pay student canvassers $15/hr and two field organizers $18.75/hr). PDC filings also show Orion has hired Joe Mirabella, former communications director for Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, for communications consulting (for $3,000).

What have the PACS been up to since last week? The Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE) — the Chamber of Commerce’s PAC — has spent $18,880 in direct mail for Orion this last week, as well as a couple of hundred dollars on print and online ads. The Seattle Fire Fighters PAC spent $7,103.07 on mailers for Orion, and just over $600 in print and online advertising.

Civic Alliance for A Progressive Economy (CAPE) — a Political Action Committee formed by the group Working Washington — has been getting more active in the last stretches of the election, with much of the PAC’s attention going to supporting Dan Strauss, Heidi Wills’ opponent in District 6, as well as other opponents of CASE-backed candidates. Comparatively, CAPE is not spending much in D3, with $1,036 on pro-Sawant texts in the past week.

Stay tuned for more Di$trict 3 updates next week, and an in-depth look into how the campaign’s spending habits have changed since the campaign began.

Di$trict 3

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47 thoughts on “Di$trict 3: Orion drops new ad about campaign funding, Sawant has cash ‘EMERGENCY’

  1. Yes, Orion has accepted $300,000 in Amazon backed PAC money, funny how his ad fails to mention that but this data was most likely heavily influenced by Amazon- get used to that Seattle. Sawant has accepted $0 in PAC money and I’ll point out that Sawant’s outside donors are actual people not corporations like Amazon.

    Average donation for Orion $143
    Average donation for Sawant $70
    Total donations for Orion 2,610
    Total donations for Sawant 5,763

    Source: PSBJ

    On average, individual contributions to Sawant are far less than the contributions of Orion’s supporters. More people on average support democratic elections by REAL people for REAL people.

    • Candidates cannot accept money from PACs. Any money spent by a PAC is an independent expenditure that cannot, by law, be coordinated with the candidate.

      The more you know …

      • I’m well aware of how Citizens United essentially destroyed the democratic process in this country. Egan Orion is taking full advantage of it.

      • @sasha

        I don’t like the Citizens United ruling, either, but that’s the law of the land for now. As such, Orion is playing within the rules. I don’t hold the expectation that a candidate, even Sawant, ought to refuse independent advocacy.

        Frankly, Sawant is missing an opportunity. For example, if several people from differing unions (longshoremen, grocers, teachers, etc.) decided to form a PAC of their own accord, raise their own funds, and send out mailers or take out ads to advocate for Sawant, I don’t think Sawant or her supporters would cry foul. And I wouldn’t either, because it’s within the rules.

      • @take it up with the supreme court

        Nobody said Orion was breaking the law. But “not breaking the law” is a pretty low bar – that is, just because someone is following the law doesn’t mean I’m obliged to vote for them! We all can choose to use information about who’s funding a candidate to decide whose interests we think that candidate is most likely to prioritize when in office. Of course I can’t say for sure what Orion would do in office because I can’t predict the future, so I have to go with the info available to me know, and past experience with other politicians. Perhaps it doesn’t seem fair to you for me to pre-judge Orion, but I don’t vote based on trying to be nice to candidates – I vote based on who I think is most likely to actually fight hardest for the policies I support., based on all the evidence I have on hand about them and the broader political system in which we currently find ourselves.

      • Moreover – you equate taking corporate PAC money with taking union PAC money. I would happily see both removed from our election funding system. But with both of them allowed, there’s no logical reason that people have to see them as equivalent. One suggests that the receiving candidate is likely to prioritize the concerns of workers, and the other that they’re likely to prioritize the concerns of CEOs. I happen to think one of those is a million times more important than the other, especially these days.

      • “taking” was the wrong verb to use in my last email, for the reasons mentioned above. “being the beneficiary of” is of course more appropriate. sorry for the slip.

      • @Steve, I appreciate your nuanced response and I think that most of us on here can agree that the Citizen United ruling and the resulting formation/use of PACs are bad for our democracy. However, as @take it points out, PACs are here to stay and will continue to spend for candidates they support until the ruling is overturned. Virtually all candidates, both local and national, are now the “beneficiaries” of PACs whether they want to be or not, even Ms. Sawant. Voting against somebody just because they are the beneficiary of PAC spending, as some on here appear to be voicing, seems trivial to me. I think you absolutely nailed it when you wrote: “I vote based on who I think is most likely to actually fight hardest for the policies I support., based on all the evidence I have on hand about them and the broader political system in which we currently find ourselves.”

      • @Steve

        Good input and I agree that merely following the law is not a high standard. I also agree that ideally there would be zero PAC money, period.

        However, I disagree with your opinion that corporate PAC money is different from union PAC money. To clarify: the PACs are different in the sense that they advocate for different views/causes, but if CASE were to spend $5,000 on mailers and my theoretical cross-union PAC were to also spend $5,000 on mailers…that’s the same amount of influence, IMO (for that given action). Whether their overall coffers contain the same amount is a different story, but no one can retroactively put a cap on election contributions.

        I completely concede that Orion has benefitted far more from PACs spending on his behalf, but such is modern politics. I hope it changes soon. In the meantime, what is he supposed to do about it? Track down every publicly known CASE or People for Seattle donor and tell them to stop it? Theoretically noble, but a big waste of time

      • Forgot to include this in my previous reply: does anyone know if city council has made any attempt to pass a city-level law to cap election contributions? If this is such an important issue, why wasn’t a “protest” law immediately passed years ago, in the wake of Citizens United? Besides a progressive income tax, that would be a “protest” piece of legislation I would totally get behind.

    • @sasha, I nominate your comment for the “Exactly what I was just about to say, down to the letter” Award for 2019.

      The law makes it oh-so-very-convenient for candidates to receive large-scale support from various corporate interests, and simultaneously say “Oh, but there’s nothing I can do about it! I absolutely promise you I won’t put their interests before everyone else’s!” I briefly thought at the beginning of this race that Egan might turn out to be the exception to the rule if he got elected, and was considering voting for him. But then his “No Corporate PAC money” poster showed just how happy he is to play this law to his advantage, and just how disingenuous he’s willing to be in the process. In doing so, he blew away any pretense to integrity, and any chance I’d vote for him.

  2. It’s crazy how warped and strained the messaging gets when a trillion dollar coporation can be equated with a ragtag group of supportive progressives. “Sure Amazon is paying 30k a week for astroturfers to canvas the neighborhood, but what about those crazy socialists!?” is basically the response of the Orion campaign–as if there was some genuine equivalence to be made between some ‘Joeschmo’ who read Elizabeth Warren’s tweet and donated and Vulcan Corp.

    80+ local volunteers showed up at Cal Anderson on Saturday in the pouring rain to volunteer for the Sawant campaign, and I was proud to stand by my neighbors against corporate incursion into local politics. I just hope we don’t get drowned out by paid canvassers and PAC-funded attack ads.

  3. In the news, today, a man went on Grindr and there was an anti Sawant advert. Way to go Grindr. Don’t know what Grindr is; but, thank you.

  4. Wait are we supposed to believe that because Amazon money is “local” that’s somehow better than socialists across the country donating to Sawant (very small amounts)??? Wait WHAT?

    Orion is a weirdo.

  5. Thanks for the article spelling this out. It’s important to differentiate between how many donors vs. how much money. The fact remains that Sawant has more local people wanting to pitch in. I bet accepting this Amazon tinted money will go down as one of Orion’s biggest political missteps and my hope is that future candidates will heed this, regardless of what the law allows.

  6. Responding to CD Resident’s comment that socialist donations from across the country are no worse than “local” Amazon money: a reminder again that this election is about providing LOCAL representation for the residents of Seattle. To use the District 3 race to be a pawn for the National Socialist organization is deeply disturbing to me. We need someone who really cares about District 3 and is aware of the day to day needs of its residents. It’s disappointing that Democrat presidential candidates Warren and Sanders use a sound bite headline making mentality to support the current city council. It’s one thing to question the “PACs as people” ruling, but they have no idea of what is going on within this city and how ineffective the current city council has been. To see them use their influence to burden Seattle with years of “more of the same” is disturbing to me. Those out of city donators could care less about the more mundane needs of our citizens; something for which the Seattle City Council is responsible

    • I would rather have socialist alternative funds than corporate Amazon money with corporate interests/lobbyists tied to it. By a long mile.

      • I’d rather have corporate backed, D3 representation in city hall, that understands our district’s issues and wishes to solve them, versus a nationally funded candidate, that has little to show for 8 years in office, who takes orders that only promote the socialist party.

  7. This is the conversation Sawant wants to have. It’s much easier to be the weak little progressive against big bad Amazon, versus having to defend her lackluster record over the past six years. Not to mention the high profile gaffes like the defamation lawsuit and Showbox debacle.

    Sawant is a savvy politician though, I’ll give her that. This is all playing out on her terms.

  8. I think it’s irresponsible for CHS to print that rogue ad (flyer) which implies that Egan is somehow linked to ICE. I have not necessarily agreed with other comments on this blog that CHS is advocating (in a subtle manner) for Sawant, but now I am beginning to wonder if there is some truth in that opinion.

    • More dishonest than pretending all of Orion’s money is “local” when Amazon is ubiquitous around the world and has money from all over the country and world…

      Orion’s add is very misleading. Amazon money is NOT LOCAL. And that’s besides the point. Corporate money is BAD. It means you’re paid to protect interests of billionaires.

      • “…Corporate money is BAD. It means you’re paid to protect interests of billionaires.”

        So, in your logic, anyone not working for a local mom and pop company is bad; because they are paid “corporate” money and are only working to protect the interests of billionaires? Weird logic.

        @Bob Knudson

        I don’t know @jseattle’s political leaning but it is interesting that Sawant sent out here “EMERGENCY” email and then this article was published; with the majority of comments coming from what appear to be Sawant lackeys.

      • Yes, but the difference is that Orion’s ads are not misleading, and that flyer ad implies Orion is associated with ICE, and that is nonsense.

  9. Does JSeattle need to adhere to journalistic standards? Isn’t this a blog? i.e. isn’t he allowed to promote whatever he wants? You can affect it by not reading the site…

    • I chose the images on this post as, to me, an intersection juxtaposition of the latest messaging in the race. On one hand, a potentially powerful traditional media buy. On the other? Social media and kinda wild utility pole swipes

      • Oh I thought you put that pic up there to demonstrate how juvenile and nonsensical some of Ms. Sawant’s supporters can be 😀

  10. @CD Res, I’m starting to get the sense that you don’t have a firm grasp of this race’s campaign financing. Here are the facts:

    Mr. Orion has raised a total of $380k. This money comes from 2,610 individuals. Of that, $230k has come from folks living within District 3. Also included in that $380k is the $34k donated from people living outside city.

    Ms. Sawant has raised a total of $414k. This money comes from 5,760 individuals. Of that, $112k has come from folks living within District 3. Also included in that $414k is the $188k donated from people living outside city.

    A few observations: 1) None of that campaign money comes from Amazon or any other corporation. 2) That ad that you see at the top of the article, that was paid for by Mr. Orion campaign, not a PAC i.e. it was funded by those 2,610 individuals that donated to his election efforts. 3) Ms. Sawant has over 3,100 more individuals contributors than Mr. Orion, however, 1,909 of those contributors are people living outside of Seattle. This has been a point of contention throughout Ms. Sawant’s time on the city Council; during elections her campaigns are heavily funded by Socialist Alternative members who live outside our city and then once she’s elected she spends an inexcusable amount of time focused on building a national SA movement while ignoring the more mundane responsibilities back here in our district.

    • But the PAC is funding efforts to attack Sawant allows his campaign to spend their own money. How are you not getting this?

      More money, regardless of what aspect of the campaign it’s spent on, always helps over hurts. Orion has tons more. And a bulk is from CASE/Amazon.

      • Mr. Orion’s campaign does not have a “ton” more money than Ms. Sawant’s, in fact he has ~$34k less than she does. Furthermore, Mr. Orion’s campaign, by law, cannot coordinate where or how any of the PAC funds are being spent. PAC support/spending is completely outside the control of his campaign. On the other hand, the $188k that Ms. Sawant received from individuals living outside our city is under direct control of her campaign and is spent at their discretion.

  11. I think Egan and other candidates benefiting from the amazon pac money wwould be better off repudiating the money and asking the pacs to not campaign on their behalf. That Orion has not done this and our other alternative is Sawant who does not answer to people in the city and is I believe lacking in skill or vision or accomplishment does not bode well for th this beautiful city.

  12. This whole argument about who is funding who, where the money is coming from and the greater debate about whether PACs of any kind should be allowed to be involved in messaging about candidates is a convenient distraction for a lot of folks. I think pointing fingers at donations coming from out of State for Sawant or from Amazon for Orion just makes it easy to draw a line and make this about these donations are “proof” that these are terrible people, “Just look who supports them.” They use this as a means to choose their candidate instead of how well you think they will represent you in City government and make decisions about how our tax dollars will be spent. I’m basing my decisions on how I feel about them as people and representatives, not on who gave money to a PAC or their campaign. My two cents.

    • Ditto. The funding concerns for both candidates cancel each other out and shouldn’t play a factor in any of it in my opinion. I’m looking at policy positions, their past work, and who is best likely to work collaboratively with others and compromise to get things done in order to make major changes and improvements in this city.

    • If you don’t think the “Amazon Candidates” are not going to have Amazon knocking on their Council doors after they drop $1.5 million to support their election campaigns, be it directly or indirectly, you are a fool.

      • As opposed to union PAC dollars? Arent they just as likely to be knocking on doors? In the end, they can knock but they can’t come in… unless the Councilmember wants them to.

  13. IKE cares about only one thing, Ian Kyle Iesenburg. For someone who grew up in the area, his care about it is a a black hole. This comes from someone who knows him well. If he discovers who wrote this he would no doubt attempt to ruin me.