In 2019, in Seattle’s previous district City Council elections, Kshama Sawant raised more than $586,000 on her path to victory in the general election. Other now-councilmembers raised around $200,000 in their successful campaigns. That election also attracted millions of dollars in outside spending by political action committees, including Amazon’s — though in the end, voters largely seemed to rebel against that level of outside corporate money.
Seattle has taken a few steps to level the playing field over the years. Its Democracy Voucher program gives every resident four $25 vouchers to donate to participating candidates. To redeem vouchers, candidates must first qualify by collecting a certain number of donations and signatures — 150 donations of at least $10 and 150 signatures in the case of district City Council races. Candidates also commit to campaign spending limits and caps on individual donations.
In late 2019, the City Council also tried to limit corporate outside spending with its Clean Campaigns Act, which prohibits outside candidate donations by “foreign influenced” corporations with at least 5% of non-American shareholders.
In a jam-packed primary like 2023’s, in which 45 candidates are vying for seats in seven council districts, campaign donations also serve as an important signal to voters.
“When you have these crowded primary campaigns with a lot of people who weren’t previously known, voters search for partisan cues, issue cues, donor cues, endorsements,” said political consultant Crystal Fincher in an interview with Crosscut earlier this year.
With primary ballots starting to land in voters’ mailboxes, Crosscut took a look at the top five fundraisers and Democracy Voucher recipients in each district (except in those with fewer than five candidates), based on reports from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. For a deeper dive into each candidate, check out Crosscut’s 2023 Election Guide.
District 1 – West Seattle, Delridge, South Park. Beginning in 2024, it will include Georgetown, SoDo, Pioneer Square.
1. Rob Saka, $93,730: The Meta lawyer is leading the pack of candidates seeking to represent southwest Seattle. Of the money he’s raised so far, $62,800 has come from Democracy Vouchers.
2. Maren Costa, $69,744: A climate activist and former tech employee, Costa’s raised funds mostly through Democracy Vouchers, which account for $51,950 of her total donations so far.
3. Preston Anderson, $48,333: Anderson is a clinical social worker with the VA Puget Sound Health Care System. $39,975 of his donations have come from Democracy Vouchers.
4. Stephen Brown, $43,236: Brown is the founder and owner of Eltana Bagels. $16,975 of his campaign funds have come from Democracy Vouchers.
5. Philip Tavel, $41,354: Tavel is an attorney and administrative law judge. Of the campaign donations he’s collected so far, $26,550 is from Democracy Vouchers.
District 2 – Chinatown-International District, Beacon Hill, Mount Baker, Rainier Valley.
1. Tanya Woo, $93,729: The Chinatown-International District community advocate and CID Community Watch group co-founder is leading on fundraising in District 2. She’s collected $76,575 in Democracy Voucher donations thus far.
2. Tammy Morales, $88,061: Morales is the incumbent councilmember and has represented D2 since 2019. $72,875 of her campaign donations have come from Democracy Vouchers.
3. Margaret Elisabeth, $832: Elisabeth is chair of the Green Party of Washington’s Coordinating Council. Elisabeth is eligible to collect Democracy Vouchers, but cannot redeem them until they've acquired the requisite signatures and donations. Voters have sent Elisabeth 37 vouchers so far.
District 3 – Capitol Hill, Montlake, Madison Valley. In 2024, it will include Eastlake.
1. Joy Hollingsworth, $93,640: Hollingsworth works on food access with Northwest Harvest and co-owns her family cannabis business. She is leading the crowded District 3 race in campaign donations, $64,550 of which come from Democracy Vouchers.
2. Alex Hudson, $78,531: Hudson is the former executive director of Transportation Choices Coalition. Of the funds she’s raised so far, $45,550 are from Democracy Voucher donations.
3. Alex Cooley, $55,771: Cooley is a former cannabis store owner-turned-substitute teacher. Nearly all of his campaign donations, $51,825, are from Democracy Vouchers.
4. Andrew Ashiofu, $45,929: Ashiofu is co-chair of the Seattle LGBTQ+ Commission. He too has raised almost all his campaign funds from Democracy Vouchers, with $43,025 in voucher donations.
5. Efrain Hudnell, $32,785: Hudnell is a deputy prosecutor with King County’s Mental Health Court. He has raised $16,100 in Democracy Vouchers.
District 4 – University District, Wallingford, northeast Seattle.
1. Ken Wilson, $87,889: Wilson is a civil engineer and small-business owner. He has raised $68,650 in Democracy Vouchers.
2. Ron Davis, $84,286: A tech entrepreneur and consultant, Davis sits in a close second place for fundraising in District 4. $81,675 of his donations have been from Democracy Vouchers.
3. Maritza Rivera, $67,725: Rivera is the deputy director of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture. She’s raised $36,225 from Democracy Vouchers.
4. George Artem, $2,210: Artem is a tech professional and entrepreneur currently working for AmeriCorps’ Vet Corps. Artem is eligible to collect Democracy Vouchers, but cannot redeem them until he acquires the requisite signatures and donations. Voters have sent him 46 vouchers so far.
District 5 – Northgate, Lake City, Greenwood. In 2024, it will expand west to include Crown Hill and Carkeek.
1. Nilu Jenks, $76,499: Community advocate Jenks has a strong lead on fundraising in District 5. Of her donations so far, $50,425 are from Democracy Vouchers.
2. Cathy Moore, $34,859: Moore is a former King County Superior Court judge and former Seattle public defender. She has not collected any Democracy Vouchers.
3. ChrisTiana ObeySumner, $27,896: ObeySumner is CEO of Epiphanies of Equity LLC, a social equity consulting firm. They have raised $17,025 from Democracy Vouchers.
4. Shane Macomber, $20,235: Macomber is a staff member at behavioral health nonprofit Compass Health and a realtor. Macomber is eligible to collect Democracy Vouchers, but cannot redeem them until he collects the requisite signatures and donations. Voters have sent him 101 vouchers so far.
5. Tye Reed, $10,891: Reed is a housing-justice advocate who co-led Seattle’s successful social housing ballot measure. Reed is eligible to collect Democracy Vouchers, but cannot redeem them until they acquire the requisite signatures and donations. Voters have sent Reed 300 vouchers so far.
District 6 – Fremont, Ballard, Green Lake. In 2024, the boundaries will include west Magnolia.
1. Pete Hanning, $93,740: Hanning is the executive director of the Fremont Chamber of Commerce. $65,600 of his campaign donations have come from Democracy Vouchers.
2. Dan Strauss, $88,360: Strauss is the incumbent District 6 councilmember, a position he’s held since 2019. He has collected $70,575 in Democracy Voucher donations.
3. Victoria Palmer, $12,799: Palmer is a small-business owner and was a prominent activist in the March for Freedom protests against COVID-19 vaccine requirements and business restrictions. Palmer is eligible to collect Democracy Vouchers, but cannot redeem them until she collects the requisite signatures and donations. Voters have sent her 51 vouchers so far.
4. Shea Wilson, $12,016: Wilson is a lawyer and Ballard resident. He has not received any Democracy Voucher donations.
5. Jon Lisbin, $5,381: Lisbin is a former digital advertising executive and board president of Seattle FairGrowth. He has not participating in the Democracy Voucher program.
District 7 – Downtown, Queen Anne, South Lake Union, Interbay.
1. Andrew Lewis, $93,775: Lewis is the incumbent District 7 councilmember, a position he’s held since 2019. He has collected $43,200 in Democracy Vouchers.
2. Bob Kettle, $38,841: Kettle is a former Queen Anne Community Council board member. He has reported $9,300 in Democracy Voucher donations.
3. Olga Sagan, $33,562: Sagan is owner of Piroshky, Piroshky, an Eastern European bakery. Sagan is eligible to collect Democracy Vouchers, but cannot redeem them until she acquires the requisite signatures and donations. Voters have sent her 558 vouchers so far.
4. Aaron Marshall, $23,156: Marshall is a Seattle Police Officer and Marine Corps veteran. He is not participating in the Democracy Voucher program.
5. Isabelle Kerner, $1,694: Kerner is an artist and private investigator. She is eligible to collect Democracy Vouchers, but cannot redeem them until she acquires the requisite signatures and donations. Voters have sent her 478 vouchers so far.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that several candidates had not received any Democracy Vouchers. The article has been updated to clarify that those candidates have received vouchers, but have not yet qualified to redeem them.
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