UPDATE: As of Friday afternoon, July 24, the total amount spent by independent expenditure groups on six city council candidates–in order of amount spent, Shannon Braddock, Rob Johnson, Kris Lethin, Debora Juarez, Halei Watkins, and Jon Grant–is $215,720, more than Seattle Ethics and Elections director Wayne Barnett said he had seen in council races during his 11 years at the commission.
A new independent expenditure group has brought the total amount of IE dollars–spending unlimited by state election law–to nearly $200,000, most of it supporting two candidates, Shannon Braddock in the 1st District and Rob Johnson in the 4th. The outsize expenditures from outside groups puncture the notion that switching to district elections would reduce the influence of moneyed interests over local elections. If anything, reducing the number of voters a district candidate needs to win over has only made it easier for big money to target voters: Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission director Wayne Barnett says “it does seem like with fewer voters to influence, $48,000 might have a larger impact in a district race than it does in a citywide race.”
In addition to business-backed PACs, the unions have started putting money behind their endorsements. According to reports filed with the SEEC today, the Service Employees International Union Local 925–which represents child-care and education workers–just spent around $3,000 doorbelling and distributing literature for Seattle City Council candidates Jon Grant (running for citywide Position 8) and Rob Johnson (running in Northeast Seattle’s District 4).
The two men seem like incongruous picks for a single doorbelling drive. Grant is former head of the Tenants’ Union, a lefty group in line with the union’s working-class interests, while Transportation Choices Coalition director Rob Johnson is a middle-of-the-road liberal with a strong interest in progressive transportation policies. I have a call out to SEIU to find out why they chose to focus on these two candidates in particular, but the union backing definitely contradicts the framing by Johnson’s opponents that he is a shill for developers or in the pocket of big business.
As I first reported last week, the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), the Seattle Chamber’s PAC, spent $44,000 on TV ads for Johnson. (They also dropped a similar amount on Shannon Braddock, who’s a frontrunner in the eight-way race in West Seattle’s District 1). In addition, the Rental Housing Association PAC just contributed $10,000 to both People for Shannon and People for Rob, and the Washington Restaurant Association’s Hospitality PAC has contributed $20,000 to the pro-Johnson campaign.
The new IEs are interesting not just politically but because they disprove a central claim by proponents of district elections (which just went into effect this year): The idea that elections by district would push “big money” out of council races. This year so far, various IE campaigns backed by the Chamber, Realtors landlords, hotels, and tribes have collectively given nearly $200,000 to back local candidates, most of that to boost Braddock and Johnson. In the past, according to Barnett, IEs in all local campaigns have totaled just around $212,000, spread over three campaigns in 2007 and 2009.
The Chamber, restaurant, and hotel PAC contributions to Johnson also represent a big blow to Johnson opponent and council incumbent Jean Godden, who has historically enjoyed the support of Seattle business interests. This time, those folks are all-in for Johnson, who currently seems like the leading contender to take Godden’s seat on the council dais in the newly created District 4 position.