Apparently, the 2015 Seattle City Council races are already attracting vampires with money.
This year’s leading council candidates have already raised significant amounts of campaign cash from various donors of different character, with the August 4 primary elections still seven weeks away. As of June 11, the candidates who have gathered the most green are all incumbents — no surprise there. Meanwhile, the top non-incumbent fundraiser is Lorena González, who was Mayor Ed Murray’s legal counsel prior to her council candidacy — which makes her the obvious establishment favorite for the crucial at-large Position 9 contest.
Let’s now follow that money. Here are the top five fundraisers and what they’ve raised so far, according to the latest state campaign fundraising reports as of June 11:
Tim Burgess (incumbent, Position 8): $196,800
Bruce Harrell (incumbent, District 2): $161,000
Kshama Sawant (incumbent, District 3): $125,800
Lorena González (challenger, Position 9): $96,600
Pamela Banks (challenger, District 3): $94,700
The most significant contrast between opponents in this year’s council elections can be found in the District 3 race. While controversial incumbent Kshama Sawant has raised impressive bank, her leading challenger, Urban League president Pamela Banks, has quickly raised nearly the same amount merely three months after announcing her candidacy on March 5. Among the key differences between Banks and Sawant, Banks has fewer total donors contributing to her campaign than Sawant. Essentially, Sawant is grassroots while Banks is Big Bank.
Sawant held a grassroots fundraiser on June 6 that cost $15 to attend, drew at least 800 people, and raised $25,000, according to Sawant’s campaign. Meanwhile, during the past month, Banks’s campaign cash has more than doubled. At the end of April, Banks had raised $46,000. Since then, she’s raised another $46,000 and counting.
Several of Sawant’s largest donations have come from unions, with $700 donations (the contribution limit by city law) coming in from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 19, the Service Employees International Union 775, the Building and Construction Trades Council, three Teamsters unions, and the Washington Federation of State Employees Local 1488. She has also received donations from several other unions. Meanwhile, Banks is getting her primary financial support from some obviously non-grassroots donors — many of them key players in Seattle’s current housing affordability crisis.
Among Banks’s major donors are both the chair and the president of Goodman Real Estate and the founder of Westlake-based Alchemy Real Estate, all of whom have donated $700, and two top-tier Vulcan employees: $500 from a public policy specialist and $550 from Vulcan’s community relations manager. She’s also received $250 from a board member from the Rental Housing Association of Washington, which represents landlords.
Banks’s City Hall donors include current council president (and incumbent candidate) Tim Burgess, who has donated $500; former council member Richard Conlin (whom Sawant defeated in 2013), who gave $100; council member Jean Godden’s consultant Cathy Allen, who gave $200; and Tobias Pulliam, a legislative aide to council member Tom Rasmussen, who donated $700.
Last but not least, Banks has received $700 from the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which has also endorsed Banks — most intriguing, given the recent history of police misconduct in District 3, which comprises Capitol Hill and the Central District.
And then there’s Tim Burgess.
Obviously the council’s most conservative incumbent, Burgess has obviously attracted the most campaign cash this year so far. Who’s his donor constituency? Burgess, lest we forget, was the key architect and lead sponsor of Seattle’s infamous 2010 aggressive panhandling legislation, which was defeated through strong opposition from the city’s longtime progressive activist community. He also supported the repeal of the city’s $25 employee head tax in 2009, and he prevented a measure mandating public financing of city council elections from getting placed on the 2014 Seattle municipal ballot. Not exactly progressive.
The switch to district-based city council elections has brought a clear sea change this year in terms of the quality of the candidates. Nevertheless, Big Money still appears to reign over Seattle city politics. In other words, Seattle is still being governed ultimately by the sociopolitical disease of economic fundamentalism, which first bloomed in City Hall after the city’s historic 1989 municipal elections. Those elections ushered in our infamous city attorney Mark Sidran, whose shameless war on Seattle’s underclass continues today, long after his 1990-2002 reign in City Hall. It will clearly take much more grassroots organizing to complete the sea change.