Where This Year’s Campaign Money Is Coming From

By Erica C. Barnett

Seven weeks out from the August primary, at least five candidates have raised enough to hit the city’s primary-election spending caps ($400,000 for mayoral candidates, $187,500 for city council) and can’t go over that limit unless a candidate who is not participating in the democracy voucher program (such as Art Langlie in the mayor’s race or Sara Nelson in the race for City Council Position 9) or an independent expenditure campaign (such as Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future, in the mayor’s race) exceeds the limit.

Other campaigns, such as the efforts to pass a charter initiative on homelessness and recall city council member Kshama Sawant, aren’t subject to those limits and are free to raise and spend as much money as they want—about half a million so far, respectively, although those numbers are sure to balloon if both measures make it onto the November ballot.

But where is the money coming from? For most of this year’s major citywide campaigns, the answer is simple (and fairly predictable): Contributions are coming in from all over the city, from far North Seattle to Rainier Beach, with a small percentage from outside city limits. But a few campaigns defy this trajectory, in telling ways.

The first, and most striking, category are the campaigns that are funded largely from people  outside the city—people who won’t be directly impacted by who gets elected or the results of the two initiative campaigns.

In the mayoral race, Casey Sixkiller and Art Langlie—a long-shot candidate who has received outsize coverage from the city’s media establishment—have both gotten about half their money from out of town so far: 46 percent and 54 percent, respectively. (Former city council member Bruce Harrell is in a distant third, with 22 percent of his funds coming from out of town).

Most of Langlie’s out-of-town money comes from contributors in Seattle’s suburbs, including Bellevue, Mercer Island, and Mukilteo; a large plurality (87 out of 300) list their occupation as either “retired” or “homemaker.” Many of Sixkiller’s out-of-town contributions come from further afield, including in and around Washington, D.C., where Sixkiller was a longtime lobbyist.

The pro- and anti-Sawant campaigns reverse the predictable progressive-conservative political split, where progressive money comes from the city and conservative campaigns tap out-of-town connections. Instead, most of the pro-Sawant money so far has come from out of town, while the biggest chunk of funds for the Recall Sawant campaign (42 percent) has come from residents of District 3, which Sawant represents. Only 16 percent of the money for the recall campaign came from outside the city.

In contrast, 61 percent of the anti-recall campaign’s funding has come from outside city limits, the majority from far-flung places like Boston, Minneapolis, and Chicago. Just 18 percent of the Kshama Solidarity Campaign’s funding so far is from inside District 3.

If the recall measure makes it onto the November ballot, it could be one of the most expensive campaigns, measured by vote, in the city’s history. In 2019, according to King County elections, 44,043 people voted in the District 3 council election. The two campaigns have raised more than a million dollars so far; if the election were held today with similar turnout, the campaigns would have spent nearly $24 a vote.

The second category of lopsided fundraising—money that comes from just one district—includes just one campaign: Compassion Seattle, whose funding so far derives overwhelmingly (59 percent) from District 7, which includes the downtown core. (The next-ranked category, at 15 percent, is “outside city limits.”) Looking at the list of contributors, the reason is clear: The biggest donors are downtown developers like Urban Visions and Vulcan, downtown property managers, and business lobbying groups based in downtown Seattle.

As we’ve reported, the campaign has presented its initiative—which would amend the city’s constitution to mandate new shelter beds without providing any new funds for homelessness—as a grand bargain between downtown businesses and homeless service providers concerned about the plight of unsheltered people. In reality, though, the campaign’s funders are just who you’d expect—the same people who have complained for years about the visibility of homelessness and appear to see the initiative as a way to solve the problem.

Finally, a couple of candidates in this year’s citywide races have contributions that are skewed toward one district—specifically District 3, which includes Capitol Hill and the Central District. Both Position 9 candidate Nikkita Oliver and mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston have received the largest portion of their funds from people in this progressive-leaning district (24 and 28 percent, respectively) with District 2 (southeast Seattle) coming in second for both candidates.

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