“Corporate” Contributions: Not Really a Thing in Seattle (Updated)

This originally ran as item 3 in today’s Morning Crank. 

Update at 12:30 on Wednesday: After I posted this item this morning, the right-wing Freedom Foundation announced that it was filing a lawsuit challenging the city of Seattle’s new income tax. The attorneys representing the group: Lane Powell. As I reported on Twitter, Lane Powell attorneys have contributed nearly $3,000 to Jenny Durkan—far more than they have to any other mayoral candidate, including current Mayor Ed Murray, back when he was still running for reelection. Durkan has expressed skepticism over the legality of the tax.

Every year, lefty candidates in Seattle races try to distinguish themselves by pledging “not to accept any money from corporations or developers,” suggesting by implication that their opponent is financed by (and in the pocket of) big corporations. For example, in this year’s mayoral race, Cary Moon, and Nikkita Oliver both pledged that they would not take direct contributions from corporations or developers, and in the race to fill city council Position 8, both Jon Grant and Teresa Mosqueda made a similar vow Moon and Oliver were trying to distinguish themselves from their business-endorsed opponent Jenny Durkan, and Grant and Mosqueda from their business-endorsed opponent Sara Nelson.

It all sounds very principled: “Even if it costs me the election, I will decline all corporate contributions, because my values aren’t corporate values.” But it’s just about the easiest promise any candidate can make—because corporate contributions are basically nonexistent in Seattle.

Obviously, the Seattle Chamber and other business groups support certain candidates (often, in recent years, by funding independent expenditure campaigns), but corporations don’t typically give to individual candidates, making this perennial pledge little more than an empty applause line. I took a look at the contributor lists for the frontrunners in this year’s mayoral and council races, and found that, after Oliver and Moon (who, indeed, took no direct contributions from business), the candidate who took the smallest percentage of contributions from businesses—just 1 percent—was actually … Jenny Durkan. (Jessyn Farrell tied Durkan’s 1 percent.) Three percent of populist state legislator Bob Hasegawa’s contributions came from businesses, as did 2 percent of Mike McGinn’s. Worth noting: 60 percent of Moon’s money came from her own bank account; as Moon herself has said, she was able to self-finance largely because of family money, which came from the family … business.

In Position 8, the pattern is similar. While neither Mosqueda nor Grant received any money from businesses, “business” candidate Nelson got just 4 percent of her money from businesses.

All candidates, including Oliver, Moon, Mosqueda, and Grant, received contributions from people who work for corporations, including Amazon, Microsoft, Vulcan, and Google.

So the next time a candidate points to “refusing corporate contributions” as a point of pride, you might want to point out that businesses don’t really contribute to Seattle campaigns—even to “business” candidates.

* Of course, businesses do fund independent expenditure campaigns, which cannot be coordinated with candidates.

** Part of the reason business contributions make up such a small percentage of campaign war chests in Seattle is that contributions are limited to $500. The limit is designed to reduce the influence any one contributor can have over a candidate, and it serves its purpose.

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3 thoughts on ““Corporate” Contributions: Not Really a Thing in Seattle (Updated)”

  1. Very true, The vast majority of contributions in Seattle races are from individuals. Thanks for pointing this out and presenting the supporting information.

  2. That story (many details of which were fact-checked and disputed at the time), mentions a total of two direct contributions. The rest are to pro-Murray PACs, which, as I mention in the piece, are not under the candidates’ control AND are indeed becoming more common. This story is about direct campaign contributions – the kind of contributions candidates are referring to when they say “I will not accept corporate contributions.”

  3. What about the payouts Ed Murray got from Comcast to stop progress on municipal broadband? He also then renewed their monopoly contracts 2 years later.


    And that was for relatively cheap. Once Durkan comes out as the “anti-income tax” candidate I imagine she’ll get lots of donations from rich individuals or corporations through relevant PACs. The money game has changed in politics since last time around, I’m not convinced Seattle is somehow special anymore with as much money is now in the city.

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