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With time as state Supreme Court mulls decision, campaigns in Sawant recall fight build big warchests

Sawant at a Juneteenth Black Lives Matter march

With District 3 residents still waiting for a state Supreme Court decision on the future of the recall effort against their Seattle City Council representative, dueling campaigns have formed, brining endorsements worthy of a hotly contested general election and raising more than $500,000, according to campaign finance filings.

Even in a year with the city’s mayor’s race wide open, the campaign battle is Seattle’s largest political fight.

The uncertainty around the court’s ultimate decision has left plenty of time to build warchests. Both sides continue to raise money on the premise that the Supreme Court will allow the recall to move forward, with the pro-Sawant camp edging out the recall campaign, as of Feb. 23, with about $288,000, compared to the recall’s $267,000. For her 2019 re-election bid, Sawant raised over $586,000 and her opponent nearly $404,000.

Sawant has been aided by tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from outside Seattle, with over half of her campaign’s 2,876 donors located outside the city limits, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.

Recall campaign spokesperson and treasurer campaign manager and chairman Henry Bridger noted this, highlighting that just 5% of his effort’s 4,245 contributors don’t live in the city. Almost 25% of Sawant donors are represented by her, however, compared to just over 11% of those who want to recall her. Over 70% of the recall effort’s contributors don’t list an address so that figure is likely higher.

 

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Bridger said donors have been leaving their addresses off out of fear of retaliation from Sawant supporters, adding that they have reported threats to officers of the recall effort to the police.

He noted that they looked to mobilize their neighbors and friend networks, which are more local. The recall campaign has also spent money on a billboard on Martin Luther King Way, bringing attention to their cause.

“It’s truly been a grassroots effort,” he argued.

The “Kshama Solidarity” campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Sawant’s effort, called “Kshama Solidarity,” has been so far fueled by larger sums with nearly 32% of the campaign’s cash coming in increments of $700 or more, compared to about 11% for the recall. Over 75% of the recall supporters contributed $25 or less, compared to about half that number for Sawant. The pro-Sawant average contribution size is $100 and the anti-Sawant one is $63.

Top recall donors include Jeannie Nordstrom, the wife of the former chairman and CEO of the department store, art gallery owner Stacey Levitan, and web hosting firm Sound Strategies. You can view a full list of Recall Sawant contributions here.

Max $1,000 contributors to the pro-Sawant side include individuals from Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and several from Pittsburgh. Prominent local donors include a University of Washington coronavirus researcher who has been called the “Nate Silver of public health.” State employees, followed by Microsoft and Amazon and Whole Foods workers, have given the most to support Sawant. You can view a full list of Kshama Solidarity contributions here.

While Bridger said that most of the campaign’s spending has had to go toward legal fees as the recall made its way through the King County Superior Court before being appealed to the state Supreme Court, the city will be covering Sawant’s legal costs. The city council voted 7-1 in September to fund her legal expenses, noting state law allows cities to cover recall costs for elected officials.

In January alone, the recall effort spent nearly $20,000 in legal fees at law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, according to campaign finance filings. In total, the campaign has paid the law firm almost $100,000. Another $12,000 went to a consulting company.

Advertising, office space, and employee salaries have made up a chunk of the pro-Sawant side’s similar spending so far.

The Supreme Court will decide whether any of the charges leveled against Sawant will be enough to move forward with having signatures gathered.

Organizers have outlined four acts they say Sawant has made while in office that warrant sending the recall to the ballot next year. Most of the charges are from 2020 and relate to her response to protests against police brutality and systemic racism.

The recall effort also argues Sawant misused her office and flouted coronavirus-induced social distancing restrictions in opening City Hall to hundreds of protesters one night last June.

In arguing the court should dismiss the recall petition, Sawant’s lawyers with the Barnard Iglitzin and Lavitt law firm say that gatherings such as the First Amendment-protected demonstration are exempt from Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation and that city council members can invite guests anytime.

“Sawant feels she is above the law and the people of District 3 do not want someone in office who breaks the law,” Bridger told CHS.

The protesters occupied the entrance to City Hall for about an hour, chanting, making speeches, and even at one point singing that Mayor Jenny Durkan needed to resign from office.

They also say she similarly used her official position to lead a march to Durkan’s home in July, a confidential address protected because she had received threats during her tenure as U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, showing what the original complainant in the recall and D3 resident Ernie Lou called a “reckless disregard for the safety of Mayor Durkan’s family and children” in a court filing last year.

 

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Patty
Patty
7 months ago

Great update. Not sure why the Courts need over a month to say yes or no to this issue. Pretty interesting that Sawant has become very quiet since she has been on the hot plate.

Time will tell how this gets resolved.

Spencer Beard
Spencer Beard
7 months ago

I can think of a lot better uses for $500,000 right about now. Find a way to get roofs over people’s heads, for goodness sake.

James T.
James T.
7 months ago

This recall effort is such a joke and unconstitutional. Don’t like Sawant? Then vote.

Bob
Bob
6 months ago
Reply to  James T.

Isn’t that the reason it’s at the Supreme Court, to decide the constitutionality? And I do plan to vote if it’s allowed to proceed…

RWK
RWK
6 months ago
Reply to  James T.

Please don’t claim “unconstitutional” unless you can back it up with a cogent argument. Let the Supreme Court decide.

All Power to the People
All Power to the People
6 months ago

Hah! Bridger is so full of shit his eyes are brown!

Seattle Neighbor
Seattle Neighbor
6 months ago

Whatever the numbers are being thrown around, remember that there are 75,000 registered voters in District 3 who will decide.