Seattle voters sent mixed messages in Tuesday’s primary election, backing many of the candidates who were supported by hundreds of thousands of dollars in independent spending by two conservative-leaning PACs while sending three incumbent city council members to the general election at the top of their respective packs, although some of those incumbents will face a tougher road than others.
Lightning rod city council member Kshama Sawant got less than a third of the vote in her reelection bid in District 3, leading second runner-up Egan Orion by just nine points (33 to 24) in a six-person race. Orion benefited from an incendiary anti-Sawant campaign funded by People for Seattle, the PAC started by her former council colleague Tim Burgess, as well as independent spending by the conservative Moms for Seattle PAC and the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, the political arm of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
In District 5, incumbent Debora Juarez was doing a bit better than Sawant, with 42 points to challenger Ann Davison Sattler’s 28 percent in a six-way race. (Sattler, whose campaign has been promoted heavily by the online group Safe Seattle, did not get the support of any PAC.) And in District 1 (West Seattle), incumbent Lisa Herbold got 48 percent in a three-way race, besting challenger Phil Tavel, who was supported by People for Seattle, Moms, and CASE but barely topped 33 percent of the vote.
In District 2, Tammy Morales (45 percent) and Mark Solomon (25 percent) will advance to the general; in District 4, Alex Pedersen (45 percent) and Shaun Scott (19 percent) will move forward; in District 6, Dan Strauss (31 percent) and Heidi Wills (23 percent) will advance; and in District 7, the winners are Andrew Lewis (29 percent) and Jim Pugel (24 percent).
So what should we make of these results? A few early takeaways:
1) PAC money (maybe) matters; democracy vouchers (maybe) don’t.
A lot has been made of the fact that Seattle voters now have the ability to direct public funds to the candidate or candidates of their choice, through property-tax-funded system called democracy vouchers. (Yes, that’s a link to my own story). The idea was that by giving every Seattle voter $100 to spend as they want in the primary and general elections, democracy vouchers would help temper the influence of corporate money in local politics.
But in every race but two (more on those in a moment), upstart conservative PACs—with a heavy assist from legacy groups like CASE—managed to push relatively obscure candidates through to the general election by spending huge amounts of money on campaigns targeting incumbents or presumptive frontrunners like Tammy Morales. In nearly every election where People for Seattle and Moms for Seattle bombarded voters with negative ads and mailers, their candidate moved through to the general election.
Overall, PACs have reported spending more than $875,000 in the primary election alone, a number that is likely to rise as late reports come in. That number is larger than the total amount of independent expenditures on all nine primary and general city council elections in 2015.
Moms for Seattle spent about $33,000 in each of four target districts, bombarding voters with oversized mailers featuring heavily Photoshopped images on one side and the group’s endorsed candidates on the other. Given that two of their candidates (Michael George in the 7th and Pat Murakami in the 3rd) didn’t make it out of the primary, tonight was a mixed result that probably didn’t justify an outlay of more than $130,000.
People for Seattle, a PAC started by former city council member Tim Burgess, seems to have been more effective. In almost every case, the candidates People for Seattle supported were also backed by the Chamber’s Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy PAC, providing a double punch of conventional campaign materials bolstered by negative, and in many cases inaccurate or misleading, mail.
In District 1, Herbold challenger Tavel—who got 18 percent of the vote against Herbold in 2015 despite being endorsed by the Seattle Times—benefited from nearly $34,000 in spending from People for Seattle, more than half of that targeting Herbold. (CASE threw in another $102,000).
In District 2, sleeper candidate Solomon—a civilian employee of the Seattle Police Department with no prior involvement in local elections—benefited from $23,000 from People for Seattle, including $2,700 in negative mailers targeting Morales (whose name the group’s reports consistently and inexplicably misspell “Moralas.”) CASE spent another $88,000 on Solomon.
In District 3, People for Seattle spent $12,500 against Sawant, $12,500 targeting a Sawant challenger, Zach DeWolf, and another $15,000 supporting Orion. (CASE spent another $122,000 on Orion, and $12,000 against Sawant)
In District 4, the PAC spent $19,000 backing Pedersen, who happens to be Burgess’ former council aide, and $11,000 targeting Emily Myers, a UW doctoral student who had labor backing and came in fourth. (Pedersen got a $13,000 boost from CASE).
People for Seattle stayed out of Districts 5, where they endorsed Juarez, and 6 and 7, where three of their non-endorsed but recommended candidates, Heidi Wills in District 6 and Jim Pugel and Andrew Lewis in District 7, came through. CASE spent $6,900 on Juarez, $6,600 on Wills, $6,600 on Jay Fathi, $12,000 on Michael George (D7), and $6,000 on Pugel.
Other notable expenditures from legacy PACs include $148,000 from UNITE HERE 8, the New York City-based labor union, supporting Andrew Lewis.
Overall, PACs have reported spending more than $875,000 in the primary election alone, a number that is likely to rise as late reports come in. That number is larger than the total amount of independent expenditures on all nine primary and general city council elections in 2015. Continue reading “PAC Spending Pays Off, Sawant’s In Trouble, and Other Lessons from Election Night”