Outside interests spend more than $1M on Seattle City Council races

The majority of funds come from businesses and real estate groups supporting conservative candidates, while unions mostly back progressives.

images of seattle city council members reflect off of plexiglass

Seattle City Councilmember Dan Strauss attends a meeting. Reflected on plexiglass is the rest of the Council, on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. (Amanda Snyder/Crosscut)

Election Day is just a week away and big money is pouring into Seattle’s City Council races through independent expenditure committees.

As of this writing, committees have spent nearly $1.1 million to influence voters, according to data available from the Washington Public Disclosure Commission.

More than $883,000 of that outside money has come primarily from business and real estate interests spending in support of conservative and centrist candidates in the seven district Council races. Labor unions and other progressive groups have marshaled nearly $192,000 in spending so far, primarily in support of progressive candidates but with some spending on centrists.

In Seattle, candidates can accept individual donations of up to $600. For candidates participating in the Democracy Voucher program, individual donations max out at $300. For district City Council races, candidates receiving Democracy Vouchers are limited to raising $187,500 in individual donations.

Independent expenditure committees, by contrast, have no cap on fundraising and are free to spend as much as they’d like in support of candidates, so long as they do so without coordination with the campaigns. These committees typically spend money on advertising and outreach in support of a candidate or on negative ads against their candidate’s opponents.

Businesses, developers, real estate lobbies and others have formed committees to spend on six of the seven races. They are: Elliott Bay Neighbors in D1, Friends of SE Seattle in D2, Seattle Neighbors Committee in D3, University Neighbors Committee in D4, Greenwood Neighbors Committee in D5, and Downtown Neighbors Committee in D7. They are supporting Rob Saka, D1; Tanya Woo, D2; Joy Hollingsworth, D3; Maritza Rivera, D4; Cathy Moore, D5; and Bob Kettle, D7.

Washington state Voter Guide 2023


Combined, those six independent committees have raised nearly $853,000 from many dozens of donors. Not every committee has the same set of donors, but there is overlap in the donor base among all these groups. For example, the Master Builders Association’s Affordable Housing Council is a top donor in four of the six committees with a total of $125,000 in contributions. NAIOP, the commercial real estate association, contributed to the same four groups.

Seattle’s Hospitality for Progress contributed to four committees and transportation and logistics company Saltchuk Resources contributed to five. Goodman Real Estate CEO George Petrie, Seattle’s leading Trump donor in 2021, contributed $10,000 to the independent committee in D1 and $5,000 each in D4, D5 and D7. Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic is a top contributor to the committee in D2 and contributed to D3’s as well.

Voters can find a full list of independent committee contributors on the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission website.  

The six business-backed committees are further linked by their use of the same political consultancy, Cerillion N4 Partners, to produce their ads, websites and mailers.

The National Association of Realtors has also taken an interest in Seattle elections, spending $225,781 in support of Woo, Hollingsworth, Rivera and Kettle.

Per usual, outside spending on progressive candidates has come mostly from unions, with some support from progressive political groups such as Fuse Washington and individual donors. This year, while labor is backing mostly progressives, it’s not universally the case. For example, labor has backed Hollingsworth and Moore even though Alex Hudson and ChrisTiana ObeySumner are considered the progressive candidates in those districts.

Similarly, business and labor share support for incumbent Dan Strauss in D6. And while business is spending big on Kettle in opposition of D7 incumbent Andrew Lewis, Lewis is backed by both labor and groups like the Master Builders.

Unite Here Local 8, the hotel and hospitality union, has led labor in independent expenditures this election cycle. It has spent $98,941 split evenly among Maren Costa, D1; incumbent Tammy Morales, D2; Hollingsworth, D3; Ron Davis, D4; Moore, D5; and Strauss, D6.

Service industry union SEIU and the Teamsters have contributed to the Coalition for Progressive Change, which is backing Alex Hudson in D3. SEIU 775 also contributed $10,000 to Energize Washington, the committee backing Lewis. Workers United for Seattle, a committee supporting Costa, is backed by the grocery workers’ union UFCW, SEIU, the Electrical Workers union and others.

Spending in the 2023 election cycle pales in comparison to the previous district Council elections. In 2019, there was $4 million in outside spending across the seven races. Amazon alone dropped $1.5 million, a move that largely backfired for the tech giant.

Nonetheless, outside spending will likely be influential in 2023. In some races, independent expenditure committees have already more than doubled what candidates can raise through individual donations, money that buys a lot of positive and negative advertising in the final days before the election.

Here is a breakdown of all independent spending, according to Public Disclosure Commission filings as of Oct. 27.

District 1

Maren Costa: Workers United for Seattle spent $36,991, Unite Here Local 8 PAC spent $16,490, and Fuse Votes spent $405 in support of Costa. Elliott Bay Neighbors spent $105,000 against her.

Rob Saka: Elliott Bay Neighbors spent $40,000 in support of Saka.

District 2

Tammy Morales: Unite Here Local 8 PAC spent $16,490 and FUSE Votes spent $405 in support of Morales. Friends of SE Seattle spent $22,500 against her.

Tanya Woo: The National Association of Realtors spent $61,324, People Power Solutions PAC spent $5,950, and Seattle Firefighters PAC spent $2,415 in support of Woo.

District 3

Joy Hollingsworth: The National Association of Realtors spent $54,425, Seattle Neighbors Committee has spent $37,000, Unite Here Local 8 PAC has spent $16,490, Seattle Firefighters PAC spent $2,415, and Fuse Votes spent $405 in support of Hollingsworth. Coalition for Progress Change spent $8,750 against her.

Alex Hudson: Coalition for Progressive Change spent $12,850 and Fuse Votes spent $405 in support of Hudson.

District 4

Ron Davis: Unite Here Local 8 PAC spent $16,490 and Fuse Votes spent $405 in support of Davis. University Neighbors Committee spent $121,875 against him.

Maritza Rivera: University Neighbors Committee spent $94,225, National Association of Realtors spent $57,404, and the Seattle Firefighters PAC spent $2,415 in support of Rivera.

District 5

Cathy Moore: Unite Here Local 8 PAC spent $16,490, Seattle Firefighters PAC spent $2,415, and Fuse Votes spent $405 in support of Moore.

ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Fuse Votes spent $405 in support of ObeySumner. Greenwood Neighbors Committee spent $100,375 against ObeySumner.

District 6

Dan Strauss: Coalition for a Stronger Seattle spent $28,742, Unite Here Local 8 PAC spent $16,490, Seattle Firefighters PAC spent $2,415, and Fuse Votes spent $405 in support of Strauss.

Pete Hanning: As of this writing there has been no outside spending for or against Hanning.

District 7

Andrew Lewis: Energize Washington spent $30,686 and Fuse Votes spent $405 in support of Lewis. Downtown Neighbors Committee spent $108,000 against him.

Bob Kettle: National Association of Realtors spent $52,682 and Seattle Firefighters PAC spent $2,415 in support of Kettle.

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