For those considered moderates and conservatives in Seattle, there’s the Seattle Times voter’s guide. For the more liberal set, there’s The Stranger. Endorsements from legislative districts and interest groups round things out. But these yearly rituals in voter guidance all pale in comparison to the most influential endorsements of all: campaign donations.
In politics, money speaks loudly. It buys ads, yard signs and campaign mailers. It buys staff and consultants. It buys credibility, where poor fundraisers are written off as non-serious. And for both groups and individuals, it’s a clear-cut statement of who they see better representing their issues, or with whom they want to curry favor. Money, unlike nearly everything in politics, is brutally honest. A union or special interest may donate to both candidates in a race, but who do they really want (or expect) to win? Their money usually tells the story.
Among the general election contenders for Seattle City Council, almost $2.6 million has been raised by 18 candidates, for an average of $143,753 each. This doesn’t count the hundreds of thousands raised by independent expenditure committees (IEs), which are funded by such groups as the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and SEIU, and back candidates with ads and other activities.
This year's new district-based elections were meant to undermine the sway of money in council politics. Judging by the figures presented below – as well as a general election almost exclusively populated by the primary's top fundraisers – no drastic shift was in the cards this year. That said, the change caused many longstanding incumbents to step down, and led to the elimination of one in the primaries (Jean Godden), who raised more than double the cash of one of her successful opponents (Michael Maddux).
In the 2015 council elections, donors are staking their claims on a large crop of new candidates. To provide a look at how their wallets are voting this year, we present a guide to this year's campaign donations, full of graphs, quizzes, and general data wonkery. In addition to a better understanding of local campaign financing, you'll also learn which candidate received a donation of six jars of honey, which received $150 from a mime, and the candidate of choice for the manager of Bullwinkle's Pizza in North Pole, Alaska.
All this data comes courtesy of the Washington Public Disclosure Commission and the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, and was pulled after ballots hit mailboxes last week. A table of contents is below to aid in skipping around, because this thing is about to get long.
Table of contents*:
- District Elections, Outside Money
- Money's Favorite Race
- Money's Most Hated Candidate
- Money's Most Confident Bet
- Money to Burn
- Maxed Out Money
- BREAK: Match the In-Kind Donation to the Candidate!
- Business Money
- Union Money
- Attorney Money
- Tech Money
- Retired/Unemployed Money
- BREAK: What district race has Vulcan NOT contributed to?
- School Employees Money
- Tribal Money - The Case of Debora Juarez
- IN CONCLUSION: The Best of Sawant's Out-of-State Donations
- Additional resources
* The ability to categorize many of these donations is based on donors properly recording their employer and profession on donation forms. However, this is not always done – for example, we spotted a government affairs employee from Vulcan who appears to have disclosed his employer and position on some forms, but not all. Thus, figures based on employment status should be taken as accurate estimates, but estimates nonetheless.
District Elections, Outside Money
If district elections were meant to amplify the power of district donors, we haven’t seen it yet. In every local district race, the majority of donations originated from outside that district. In addition, over a quarter of all donations originated from outside city limits.
This was most notable in the District Five race between Debora Juarez and Sandy Brown, where only seven percent of donations came from district donors. Forty-four percent of donations there originate from outside the city, the most in any race. This figure is largely driven by Juarez, who pulled the majority of her funding from outside Seattle (more on this later). Only three percent of her money came from district donors, compared to her opponent Sandy Brown’s 11 percent.
When it comes to donations, the most localized race is District Seven, where only 57 percent of donations have originated from outside the district. Seattleites had their ability to vote in council races substantially narrowed this year, but that's clearly not keeping them from registering their preferences in other ways.
Money’s Favorite Race
Far and away, no race attracts the interest of greenbacks like District Three. The average raised in all other district races hovers around $235k. In the Third, more than $708k has been raised by candidates Kshama Sawant and Pamela Banks.
There is a clear disconnect in where that money is originates, however. Judging solely by the amount raised, Banks is the choice of District Three donors, having received more than twice as much from district residents as Sawant (155k vs. 78k), who is a favorite of donors both outside the district and city limits.
That said, Sawant has more individual donors from the district, with 602 donors to Banks’ 458 – Sawant leads Banks in overall donor count by about 1800. For a race that is clearly fascinating to moneyed interests, big-spending independent groups have not played a big role in it, beyond some mostly grassroots help for Sawant. More on this race’s donors will follow later in the guide. Clearly this is one people are very interested in.
Money’s Most Hated Candidate
In the at-large district occupied by council president Tim Burgess, money has mounted a shock and awe campaign against challenger Jon Grant to an almost comical degree. Burgess’ campaign has raised over $361k, to opponent Jon Grant’s roughly $62,000. If money were votes, this would be the biggest landslide in the city. The average cash gap in other races is a fourth that amount, around $75k.
Then there’s the independent expenditures, which only emphasize the lopsidedness of money in this race. United for Tim has raised more than $218k, mostly from the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the Restaurant Association, but also from SEIU 775. Recently another IE named Seattle Needs Ethical Leaders popped up, which consultant Jason Bennett claimed would raise about $200k to help defeat Grant. That IE figured into in the alleged extortion scheme involving Grant and his former employers at the Tenants Union, which the Seattle Times revealed earlier this month. Time will tell whether that scandal smothers it out before it can get to work.
Candidates running against incumbents – Tammy Morales, Catherine Weatbrook, Grant, and Banks – all are raising less than their opponents. But if there's anyone that donors really want to lose, it's Grant. Burgess beats him in labor money, business money, and every category in between. Like Game of Thrones' Lord Tywin of House Lannister, Burgess and his allies are not content to simply best their foe in battle, but must smite him from the earth.
While we are not here to pick favorites, below we present a picture of Grant having a nice cupcake. Just look at him, people with money. Look upon the man you would destroy.