Big Business, Labor, and Activist Money Set to Dwarf Individual Spending on Council Campaigns

With ballots landing in mailboxes any day now, independent campaigns representing business, labor, and, vaguely, “moms,” are spending thousands of dollars—sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars—on ad campaigns, mailings, canvassing, and other efforts to influence your vote in the August 6 primary election. The money spent by outside groups threatens to dwarf spending by the campaigns themselves, particularly in District 7 (downtown, Magnolia, and Queen Anne), where labor has spent nearly half a million dollars on a single candidate.

As I reported for Seattle magazine (in a story that went to print long before the latest fundraising totals started rolling in), despite the advent of direct public campaign financing through democracy vouchers, “no amount of tinkering can fix what many reform advocates consider the most troubling trend in recent years: the growing impact of independent spending.”

Here’s a breakdown of the latest independent-money financing, where it’s coming from, and how it’s being spent:

• Moms for Seattle, a new PAC that first announced its existence on Speak Out Seattle’s Facebook page earlier this week, has raised more than $150,000 in just over a month and spent $115,000 of that on consulting and Facebook ads for four council candidates: Real estate consultant Michael George in District 1; neighborhood activist Pat Murakami in District 3 (where Kshama Sawant is the incumbent); former Tim Burgess aide and erstwhile newsletter publisher Alex Pedersen in District 4; and former council member-turned-golf advocate Heidi Wills in District 6. All four candidates also received top ratings from Speak Out Seattle.

The money spent by outside groups threatens to dwarf spending by the campaigns themselves, particularly in District 7 (downtown, Magnolia, and Queen Anne), where labor has spent nearly half a million dollars on a single candidate.

The top donors to the group include Bellevue charter school proponent Katherine Binder ($25,000); Jeannine Navone, wife of hedge-fund manager Dino Christofilis Diane Langstraat, wife of investment manager Brian Langstraat; and numerous other women who list their occupation as “stay-at-home mom” or “homemaker.” Their chief consultant is Western Consultants, LLC, which has a PO box as its local address and has never played in local campaigns before Moms for Seattle started throwing money their way ($69,000 so far) this year.

The group’s other consultant, Seattle-based Clear Path Partners, has not worked directly on local campaigns until this year; however, its founders have. Clear Path’s partners include Joe Quintaña, who started a business-oriented PAC called Forward Seattle a dozen years ago; former Strategies 360 VP John Engbar; and former King County Realtors’ lobbyist Randy Bannecker.

I’ve reached out to Laura McMahon, the woman who announced the group’s creation on Facebook, as well as Speak Out Seattle to find out more about the group and whether they’re connected to SOS, and will update this post if I hear back.

UPDATE: McMahon responded to my message asking about the group (I’ve edited out the part of her response that appeared to be responding to social media speculation about the group by people other than me): “We are moms who have never before been involved in politics, but are deeply disturbed by what is happening to our city. We seek to engage other moms, friends and concerned citizens in funding independent campaigns to elect city councilmembers with the common sense to balance caring for the homeless, addicted and mentally ill with keeping Seattle citizens safe in public areas and green spaces – something the current council seems incapable of doing. … The candidates we are endorsing are experienced leaders who want to make positive change for Seattle and are capable of achieving the balance I describe above. No one wants the status quo as it is NOT working. We have no further comment at this time.”

• People for Seattle, the PAC started by former city council member and mayor Tim Burgess, has raised a quarter-million dollars and spent about $165,000 of that so far—the overwhelming majority of it ($100,000) on direct mail by a Massachusetts-based firm called Daylight Communications. (Another $40,000, as I previously reported, went toward messaging research by the local polling firm EMC Research.) PFC’s candidates include Phil Tavel in District 1, Mark Solomon in District 2, former Capitol Hill Chamber director Egan Orion in District 3, ex-Burgess aide  Pedersen in District 4, and council incumbent Debora Juarez in District 5.

The state Public Disclosure Commission doesn’t break down the $100,000 the group is spending on direct mail by candidate, but the city’s ethics and elections commission lists, so far, negative mailings targeting Herbold, Sawant, and (in an unusual move) District 3 Sawant challenger Zachary DeWolf as well as mailings in favor of Orion and Tavel.

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• I covered spending by the Chamber-sponsored Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE) here; since then, CASE has spent another $87,000 on mailings and Facebook ads on behalf of Tavel, Solomon, Orion, Pedersen, Juarez, Wills, Fathi, George, and former police chief and District 7 candidate Jim Pugel, plus overhead expenses to the Chamber.

The state Public Disclosure Commission doesn’t break down the $100,000 former council member Tim Burgess’ People for Seattle PAC is spending, but the city’s ethics and elections commission lists, so far, negative mailings targeting Herbold, Sawant, and (in an unusual move) District 3 Sawant challenger Zachary DeWolf.

• Not to be outdone, perhaps, by business spending, UNITE HERE Local 8, the hotel workers’ union, is spending more than $425,000  $150,000 on cable TV and online ads buys on behalf of former Nick Licata campaign manager Andrew Lewis, who’s running for District 7 with strong union support. (Editor’s note: After this posted, Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission director Wayne Barnett contacted me to say the “jaw-dropping” number on the SEEC’s website was the result of a “bug” that had been fixed, and that the actual expenditure was closer to $150,000. This update reflects the SEEC’s corrected information.)

The enormous union push to get Lewis through the primary, which according to Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission reports is being funded through the group’s national arm in New York City, appears to be the only big spend on cable TV in the council primary so far.

• The Service Employees International Union 775, which represents health-care workers, has written checks to two marketing firms (one in Seattle and one in Beaverton, OR) for a digital campaign supporting District 6 candidate Jay Fathi, a physician who has also been endorsed by several other unions as well as the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, the Seattle Metro Chamber’s political arm. They’ve also paid Fuse Washington for digital ads for council incumbent Lisa Herbold (D-1, $3,500) and District 2 candidate Tammy Morales ($1,500).

• Finally, the group District 1 Neighbors for Small Business—funded by a few relatively small donations from the owners of West Seattle businesses like the West Seattle Bowl, Menashe Jewelry, and Nucor Steel—has spent just over $400 on stickers for Tavel.

 

3 thoughts on “Big Business, Labor, and Activist Money Set to Dwarf Individual Spending on Council Campaigns”

  1. Publicly financing elections will fix the imbalance of power and money they said. Publicly financing elections will bring out the bestest most democratic and pro-people candidates they said….

    The winners are clearly political consultants, yard sign printers, robo call strategists. Taxpayers? TBD.

  2. Some of this spending cracks me up, in that they are willing to spend a lot on people who will likely get crushed. Of the various candidates mentioned, the only person who could benefit from more money is Pedersen, but he was likely to make it to the general anyway (where he will lose to whomever he faces). Meanwhile, giving money to Juarez is just silly — she isn’t taking any of her opponents seriously, nor should she. She doesn’t need the money. She will coast, just like Herbold will coast.

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