Category: campaign finance

County Council Candidate Resurfaces Debunked Theory in Tommy Le Case; Businesses on Track to Far Outspend Labor in Seattle Elections

1. Burien Mayor Sofia Aragon, who’s running for the King County Council seat being vacated by Joe McDermott, reportedly caused jaws to drop at a “Tea Time with the Candidates” event at Wing Luke Museum last week when she brought up the death of 20-year-old student Tommy Le, who was shot by a King County sheriff’s deputy, as an apparent counterexample in response to a question about police violence and accountability.

According to community advocate Linh Thai, who worked to help pass the statewide police accountability initiative I-940 in the wake of Le’s death, moderator Wren Wheeler asked Aragon a question about police violence, naming Le in a list of people unjustly killed by police in King County. After giving a standard response about the need for accountability, Aragon pivoted, unprompted, back to Le, saying he had drugs in his system and was acting erratically when he was killed.

During an internal investigation into Le’s death, the sheriff’s office claimed the deputies were acting in self-defense and that Le had charged at them with a knife; a subsequent outside investigation found that Le had been shot in the back, had no knife, and may have been holding a ballpoint pen. After losing virtually every appeal it filed in the case, the county settled with Le’s family in a civil suit for $5 million.

Thai said the room went silent when Aragon implied Le had been in some way responsible for his own death. “Nobody asked her, nobody prompted her, she just decided on her won that ‘this is just something I should have something to say about,'” Thai said. “She said, ‘Let me circle back to the Tommy Le case and let me remind everyone that in the autopsy, there was a trace of drugs and also there was a report that things things were questionable about his mental health…” and I’m going, ‘Who asked you?'”

Aragon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thai, who was queued up to ask the next question, said he took the opportunity to correct the record about Le’s death. “I was like, ‘I am not here to pick a fight with you on this, but what you said is just factually incorrect,” he said. “Regardless of whether there were drugs or mental health issues involved, there was no justification whatsoever for the manner in which Tommy Le was killed by the King County Sheriff’s Office—whatsoever.”

Later, Thai issued a public call for Aragon to apologize for her comments, which “have the potential to reopen old wounds, further deepening the pain that the Le family has endured for far too long. Most importantly, she might be governed and advanced policies that may not hold law enforcement to be accountable.”

Mosqueda, who appeared after Aragon, said she was waiting to speak in a green room and didn’t hear Aragon’s remarks.

2. Big businesses will dominate airwaves and mailboxes again this year, spamming voters with cookie-cutter messages accusing progressives of coddling drug dealers, hating police, and supporting encampments all over the city.

Real-estate companies and other business interests are outspending labor by about four to one so far in their efforts to elect city council candidates they believe will be sympathetic to their political goals. Not all candidates are equal, however; business-backed independent expenditure campaigns have raised far more (nearly $300,000) in their effort to elect Meta attorney Rob Saka (and defeat former Amazon labor activist Maren Costa) in District 1, for example, than they have to elect Chinatown0International neighborhood activist Tanya Woo, running against incumbent Tammy Morales in District 2 ($112,000, including a $10,000 donation from Bellevue resident and musician Krist Novoselic).

Similarly named campaigns (“Greenwood Neighbors,” “University Neighbors,” etc.) have popped up in six of the seven council districts (sorry, Pete Hanning), each backed by organizations like the Master Builders Association of King County, the Seattle Hotel Association, and the Seattle Restaurant Alliance, and companies like Goodman Real Estate, Dunn Lumber, and Saltchuk Resources.

In addition to Saka and Woo, they’re backing former Seattle employee Maritza Rivera over tech urbanist Ron Davis in District 4 ($259,000) former judge Cathy Moore over social equity consultant Christiana ObeySumner in District 5 ($185,000); retired Navy veteran Bob Kettle over incumbent Andrew Lewis in District 7  ($129,000); and cannabis entrepreneur Joy Hollingsworth over former Transportation Choices Coalition director Alex Hudson in District 3 ($51,000).

Labor, in contrast, has raised less than $250,000 for all its candidates combined. That includes $91,000 for Costa from a coalition of unions, $43,000 for Hudson from a similar coalition, and $102,000 from UNITE HERE Local 8, the hotel workers’ union, to support six candidates, including Hollingsworth, Moore, and District 6 incumbent Dan Strauss. (UNITE HERE’s mailers for Hollingsworth promise “Good jobs in new hotels. Make Seattle a better place.”) Even counting a $10,000 contribution from SEIU 775, the home health care workers’ union, to a pro-Lewis PAC called Energize Seattle, it’s obvious businesses will outspend labor the same way it always does—something to keep in mind the next time a Seattle Times editorial tries to both-sides the influence of “special interests” in local elections.

Candidate Ron Davis Signs Anti-Upzoning Pledge, Democrats Blast Bob Kettle’s Misleading Ad; Prosecutors Seek Second Opinion in Police Crash Case

1. City Council candidate Ron Davis, who frequently touts his urbanist cred (The Urbanist called him an “urbanist supervolunteer“) signed a pledge written by the U District Community Council attesting that he will never vote to upzone University Way NE, AKA The Ave, during his council tenure. Davis is running to represent District 4, which includes the University District, against Maritza Rivera, who declined to sign the pledge.

The pledge, which takes the form of a letter to Mayor Bruce Harrell and the city council, says in part:

Preserving the unique quality that small independent businesses bring to the city and maintaining a pedestrian- friendly experience on this narrow street are critical to the sustainable development of this urban center.

You will recall that both candidates for our position on the council in the previous election cycle endorsed a similar letter in support. We will follow their lead and agree to not upzone The Ave during our tenure on the council.

The Ave is a special and historic place. Preserving it provides a serious public good, directly experienced by hundreds of thousands of people every year.

Former District 4 city councilmember Rob Johnson agreed to a plan to remove the Ave from a 2017 upzone that was part of the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, or HALA; the upzones increased the amount of density allowed along arterial streets, where apartments were already legal, and modestly increased housing capacity in some former single-family-only areas. Neighborhood activists and small businesses rallied against upzoning the Ave, arguing that taller buildings (and more housing) in the U District’s commercial core would destroy the neighborhood’s character.

“As you know, I’m not a fan of using historic preservation style actions to create private benefits,” Davis told PubliCola. “But I’ve always thought that where preservation creates significant public benefit (in this case, preserving one of our few human scale, walkable, downtown style gathering places in Seattle) and it is open to the public, it makes sense to consider preservation if the benefits outweigh the costs.” Davis added that the rest of the city needs to be upzoned, not just commercial areas, and said downtown Ballard and Pike Place Market were similar areas that “don’t need high rises.”

Earlier this week, Davis sent out a fundraising email lambasting “the giant corporate developers (Master Builders Association) that have done so much to make Seattle expensive” for “dumping upwards of $100K on behalf of Rivera.” The Master Builders, Davis’ email continued, were the same “people who rewrote our tree legislation so it would be easier to cut down trees like Luma the Cedar in Wedgwood.”

Asked why she didn’t sign, Rivera told PubliCola, “I’m not comfortable signing a blanket pledge about this—or any other—complicated policy issue where the policy proposal’s details are unknown. As I told the UDCC, if I’m elected in November, I am committed to bringing a thoughtful approach to reviewing any proposal that is put before me.”

Earlier this week, Davis sent out a fundraising email lambasting “the giant corporate developers (Master Builders Association) that have done so much to make Seattle expensive” for “dumping upwards of $100K on behalf of Rivera.” The Master Builders, Davis’ email continued, were the same “people who rewrote our tree legislation so it would be easier to cut down trees like Luma the Cedar in Wedgwood.”

The claim puts Davis’ position squarely in line with Alex Pedersen, the District 4 incumbent who has been the most vocal opponent of new housing on the council. Pedersen was out on the fringes of the council on this issue; Davis’ mailer echoes the misleading claims Pedersen made back in May when trying to scuttle a tree protection proposal that a supermajority of the council supported.

“Luma,” the name advocates gave to a large cedar tree that a developer planned to (legally) remove to build townhouses, became a rallying point for neighborhood activists who have long opposed new housing in historically single-family areas like Wedgwood—which, as Josh pointed out last month, was originally a dense forest that was razed by white colonizers who wanted to build a new whites-only neighborhood in the area. Pedersen’s attempt to derail the long-negotiated legislation failed 6-1.

The Democrats called Councilmember Sara Nelson’s claim about people dying because Lewis did not initially vote for the bill “unintentionally misleading at best, deliberately lying at worst.”

2. The King County Democrats issued a statement on Thursday condemning District 7 council candidate Bob Kettle for an ad (which PubliCola covered last week) that includes images of encampments and features Position 8 City Councilmember Sara Nelson, who blames District 7 incumbent Andrew Lewis for causing deaths due to drug overdoses by failing to pass her original version of a bill empowering the city attorney to prosecute people for having or using drugs in public.

In the video, Nelson says, “Andrew Lewis’ decision to block my drug bill cost the lives of too many people from fentanyl overdose. I trust Bob Kettle to do the right thing.”

The Democrats compared the ads to similar “Republican scare tactics” used by Sen. Patty Murray’s unsuccessful challenger Tiffany Smiley last year; Smiley’s ads included images of encampments and a boarded-up Starbucks on Capitol Hill.

“Most distressing of all is the use of individuals experiencing homelessness in Bob Kettle’s ad, likely without their consent. It is imperative that we treat all individuals with dignity, especially those experiencing homelessness who already face immense challenges. Using their struggles for political gain is not only ethically wrong but also demonstrates a shocking lack of empathy and understanding,” the Democrats said in their statement. 

The Democrats called Nelson’s claim about people dying because Lewis did not initially vote for the bill “unintentionally misleading at best, deliberately lying at worst.”

3.  The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office announced Thursday that it has hired an outside collision reconstruction firm, ACES, Inc., to analyze in-car and body-worn video and other materials submitted by the Seattle Police Department for the prosecutor’s felony traffic investigation into Kevin Dave, the SPD officer who struck and killed 23-year-old student Jaahnavi Kandula as he was speeding to respond to a call nearby.

According to KCPAO spokesman Casey McNerthney, the prosecutor’s office will decide whether to file charges against Dave at some point after they review the video—and, potentially, reconstruct the collision scene itself. McNerthney said the prosecutor’s office will have another update—which could, but won’t necessarily, include a charging decision—in November.

As we’ve reported, the police and fire departments initially claimed Dave was responding “as an EMT” to an overdose nearby when he struck and killed Kandula in a crosswalk, elaborating later that police need to be on scene when the fire department is reviving people who have overdosed because they can be violent. PubliCola’s reporting later revealed that the caller had not overdosed, but was lucid and waiting outside his South Lake Union apartment building when he made the 911 call. As PubliCola reported, Dave was driving 74 miles an hour and did not have his siren on when he struck Kandula on Dexter Ave., which has a 25 mph speed limit.

Another Heated Debate Over Role of Lived Experience Coalition, Business-Backed Campaigns Form for Council Elections

1. A Wednesday meeting of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s implementation board erupted into a dispute over the role of the Lived Experience Coalition within the agency’s ombuds office, after implementation board members Ben Maritz, an affordable housing developer, and Sara Rankin, the LEC’s designated board representative, questioned the agency’s decision to end an agreement in which the LEC itself helped run the oversight office.

PubliCola reported on the KCRHA’s decision to terminate an agreement that gave the LEC—a group of homeless and formerly homeless advocates who also ran a hotel-based shelter program that ran out of money earlier this year—unusual power over the ombuds office, which is part of the KCRHA. The ombuds office, whose responsibilities were described in the original interlocal agreement that set up the KCRHA in 2019, responds to and investigates questions and complaints from service providers, clients, and KCRHA employees.

Maritz asked chief ombudsperson Katara Jordan why the KCRHA was icing out the LEC, given the importance of including the perspectives of people with lived experience in the ombuds office. “Setting aside the personalities in the organizations, do we not want people with lived experience to have some direct oversight in this organization, specifically on individual cases, which our organization could easily misinterpret or get things wrong on?” Maritz asked.

“Now, do you honestly believe that a joint office with the LEC, an organization that has no oversight and has caused irreparable harm to people with lived experience in this community, would actually provide independence, accountability, or neutrality, for the ombuds office? I just feel like every time I come before this board, we have to litigate this issue.”—KCRHA chief ombudsperson Katara Jordan

Jordan—who already responded to the same questions back in June—said it was “offensive” to suggest that the office didn’t care about people with lived experience, and called the ongoing focus on including the LEC in agency operations, as opposed to people with lived experience more broadly, a kind of insidious “tokenization.” Rankin made her question or comment thriough an internal messaging system that was not visible on the video or Webex livestream.

“Now, do you honestly believe that a joint office with the LEC, an organization that has no oversight and has caused irreparable harm to people with lived experience in this community, would actually provide independence, accountability, or neutrality, for the ombuds office?” Jordan asked. “I just feel like every time I come before this board, we have to litigate this issue.”

“My team has thought really hard about how we’re going to continue to engage people with lived experience,” Jordan continued. “So please, whether it’s you, Sara Rankin, or you, Benjamin, please do not in any way, shape, or form imply that we don’t care about people with lived experience.”

After board members Juanita Spotted Elk and John Chelminiak tried to lower the tension in the virtual room—” it’s just time to put this discussion aside and continue with the operation of an excellent ombuds office,” Chelminiak said—Rankin, who is white, chided Jordan, who is Black, for turning the conversation into a “volatile” one.

“If we can’t have discussions about independence and accountability on the implementation board about the KCHRA and the different parts of the KCHRA, without it exploding into into ad hominem attacks, I think it’s problematic,” Rankin said. “I think the tenor of this conversation became very unfortunate. … I also don’t think it’s appropriate for any of us to resort to personal attacks, or emotional attacks, on any group or individual or to question the intentions or the commitment of anyone.”

2. After helping to push council candidates Rob Saka (District 1, West Seattle) and Maritza Rivera (District 4, northeast Seattle) through the primary, business and real estate interests appear to be readying similar campaigns in every other council district. Since the primary, when “Elliott Bay Neighbors” and “University Neighbors” spent a combined $130,000 on efforts that included nearly identical mailers broadly assailing the City Council, four more similarly named groups with the same mailing address and treasurer have popped up in other districts, including Greenwood (District 5), Ballard (District 6), and downtown (District 7).

So far, only the Downtown Neighbors committee has explicitly identified the candidate it’s supporting: Bob Kettle, running against incumbent Andrew Lewis. The business-backed candidates in the other races are Cathy Moore in District 5 (running against Christiana ObeySumner for the open seat) and Pete Hanning in District 6 (challenging incumbent Dan Strauss).

Notably, the only part of the city for which there is no obvious “Neighbors” campaign so far is Southeast Seattle, where Chinatown/International District activist Tanya Woo is challenging incumbent Tammy Morales. There is also a “Seattle Neighbors” committee that does not specify a council district but shares a donor, private equity firm co-founder T.J. McGill, with the original two “Neighbors’ groups.

The top donors to Elliott Bay and Downtown Neighbors include Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal, real estate developer and 2020 Trump supporter George Petrie, Dunn Lumber, and a number of other local real-estate and business interests.

Unlike candidates, independent expenditure campaigns can spend unlimited money to influence the outcome of Seattle’s local elections.

Candidate Says Bagel Giveaway Is Strictly Business; Big Business PACs Back Harrell-Allied Candidates; “Books Unbanned” Still Open to Minors In Library Book Ban States

1. Stephen Brown, the president of Eltana Bagels and a candidate for City Council in District 1 (West Seattle), said a mailer emblazoned “Seattle Deserves Better… – Stephen Brown” that included an offer for free bagels was just a routine promotional pitch for his local wood-fired bagel chain, not a campaign expenditure.

The flyer (which opens to the word “Bagels!”) offers a half-dozen free bagels and a “spread of your choice”—a “more than $25 value!” to anyone who comes in to either of Eltana’s two locations, which are both located outside District 1. In small print below the offer, the mailer says the offer expires at the end of August and has “no cash value.”

Contacted by email, Brown said the flyers were part of Eltana’s routine direct-marketing strategy and went out “to various addresses in the city that are close to retail grocery stores selling Eltana bagels. … As part of its promotions, Eltana regularly gives bagels away in an effort to garner trial and acquire customers.”

“The intention was to use a banal, stereotypical message as a parody—to use humor to sell bagels,” Brown added.

“This effort is not a campaign expense—it is not electoral in nature.” —District 1 city council candidate Stephen Brown

Eltana has also purchased four billboards, including at least one in West Seattle, prominently featuring Brown’s name.

“Eltana has never bought billboards in the past but the incredibly low price for billboards this summer ($1000 a month) made this promotional offer too attractive for Eltana to pass up,” Brown said. “We have used me, as the founder, in the past to promote Eltana[.] …. This effort is not a campaign expense—it is not electoral in nature.”

If the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission determines that the mailers, giveaway, or billboards do promote Brown’s candidacy, the campaign would be in violation of Seattle election law, which bars candidates who participate in the democracy voucher program (as Brown is) from accepting more than $300 in cash or in-kind contributions from any campaign donor. The commission declined to comment.

Brown said “the campaign will not be reporting on the performance of the Eltana trial promotion,” as “the offer is made and distributed by Eltana, is city wide, and doesn’t promote any candidate for public office nor does it mention any elections or geography.”

2. A developer-funded independent expenditure campaign poured more than $27,000 into the effort to elect Maritza Rivera—whose campaign focuses on hiring more police—to City Council District 4, where urbanist Ron Davis is the other top contender.

“University Neighbors Committee” received its largest donations from developers John Goodman and George Petrie—two frequent Republican donors who bankrolled the failed Compassion Seattle campaign and poured $150,000 into the political committee that helped elect Bruce Harrell in 2021. The other donors backing the pro-Rivera PAC include developer Jordan Selig, developer Martin Smith, developer Matt Griffin, and Amazon bigwig David Zapolsky.

The PAC’s first pro-Rivera mailer says that as a parent of a child at Ingraham High School, where a 17-year-old was shot last year, she “decided to run for city council because our current council isn’t doing enough to keep us safe. “If voters elect Rivera, the mailer promises, they’ll get “More cops. Better training. Faster response times”—Rivera has said wants to reduce Priority 1 911 response times to five minutes, which would require hiring hundreds more officers—a goal SPD has acknowledged isn’t realistic—and making Seattle the exception to a nationwide trend.

The exact same group of donors has contributed more than $32,000 to the “Elliott Bay Neighbors” PAC supporting Rob Saka—another Harrell-allied candidate—in District 1 (West Seattle).

If you’ve seen any mailers and want to send them our way, email 

3. Earlier this month, the state of Mississippi effectively banned people under 18 from accessing e-books or audiobooks through any of its public libraries—part of the growing trend of book bans and other restrictions aimed at preventing young people from accessing information about gender, sexuality, race, and anything else Republican lawmakers consider objectionable.

The law requires vendors of digital materials like Libby and Hoopla to ensure that no minors can access anything the state deems “sexually explicit,” which includes everything from textbooks that include human anatomy sketches to “descriptions [of] homosexuality or lesbianism.”

Seattle Public Library spokeswoman Laura Gentry said the library will continue to offer Seattle library cards to people with Internet access living in Mississippi, whose ban on online materials for minors only extends to public and school libraries in that state, through its Books Unbanned program. Currently, she said, the program has 17 participants from Mississippi, including a 23-year-old teacher who submitted this comment: 

“Living in Mississippi, a lot of books with vital information/stories/perspectives are banned or being banned. Being a Black woman in the city with the highest population of Black people, I know how important it is for us to protect our history. Also, being a teacher, I see how certain books being banned has already affected the younger generation. There is a lot that they don’t know and may never know so it’s extremely helpful to have access to this catalog.”

City Appeals Graffiti Injunction, Council Restricts Public Comment, Candidates Include Lots of Landlords

1. City Attorney Ann Davison announced Wednesday that her office will appeal an injunction that prevents Seattle police from arresting people for violations of the city’s anti-graffiti law. However, given the broad sweep of the injunction—and the judge’s rejection of an earlier motion to dismiss the case—the city’s appeal seems unlikely to succeed.

Last month, a federal judge, Marsha Pechman, issued a ruling in a a case brought by four people who were arrested in 2021 for writing messages including “peaceful protest” in sidewalk chalk on concrete barricades set up outside the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct. In her ruling, Pechman found that that the four plaintiffs were likely to prove that the ordinance “violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments by being both vague and overbroad.” One week later, Pechman rejected the city’s motion to dismiss the case.

In her June 23 order declining to dismiss the case, Pechman said the city failed to prove that the four protesters lack standing to file a claim under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. In addition to the reasons laid out in the original injunction, Pechman rejected the city’s claim that the police who made the arrests had qualified immunity because they believed the arrests were allowed under the ordinance’s “ban on drawing.”

“We have to have the ability to arrest people for unwanted graffiti. If we lose the lawsuit, we go back to the drawing board and figure out what the deficiencies are in the law, and we fix it or remedy it.”—Mayor Bruce Harrell

“The injunction restricts the City from appropriately addressing the growing problem of graffiti,” Davison said in a statement announcing the appeal. “The victims of graffiti—the public as a whole, business owners, property owners, and others – must have a voice. Graffiti is a crime that has an enormously negative and costly impact.”

During an event last week announcing details of his downtown revitalization plan, Mayor Bruce Harrell told PubliCola, “We have to have the ability to arrest people for unwanted graffiti. …. If we lose the lawsuit, we go back to the drawing board and figure out what the deficiencies are in the law, and we fix it or remedy it.”

2. Next week, the Seattle city council will consider new rules for council committee meetings that restrict public comment explicitly to items on a meeting’s agenda, unless the council member chairing the meeting specifies that people can comment on additional items or issues and provides “prior notice” that additional comments will be allowed as part of the meeting agenda.

Over the past several years, public comments at city council meetings have broadened in scope, as more people have shown up to committee meetings to talk about issues that fall under the committee’s purview (addressing the public safety committee about police brutality, or the sustainability committee about climate change), even when there isn’t a specific item about that topic on the agenda. Under the new rules, a committee chair or the council president will be able to cut a speaker off if they go off-topic.

Of the two dozen or so homeowners with active city council campaigns, seven are landlords.

The new rules also spell out more clearly what kind of conduct will get someone kicked out of a meeting, including “threats, personal attacks, or the use of racial, misogynistic, or gender-related slurs, or abusive language or other disorderly conduct,” and give the committee chair sole discretion to decide whether a person is violating the rules.

3. Although the majority of Seattle residents are now renters, the City Council has long been the purview of the property-owning class—people who either come onto the council with property and wealth, or are able to buy property once they start making a council salary.

This year’s council candidates reflect that trend—a large majority of the 30 candidates with active campaigns are homeowners, and only about eight are renters who do not own any property, such as a house that they don’t live in. (These numbers are approximate because state election disclosure records do not require reporting of property owned out of state.)

Of the two dozen or so homeowners with active campaigns, seven are landlords who earn a portion of their income renting residential property. This group includes District 4 candidate Kenneth Wilson, who owns a large coastal property in Florida; District 4 candidate Maritza Rivera, who rents out a Seattle townhouse; and District 5 candidate Cathy Moore, who owns a house in Burien. Most of the landlord candidates make less than $30,000 a year from their rental properties.

The one exception: District 7 candidate (and Piroshky Piroshky owner) Olga Sagan, who reported making between $90,000 and $159,998 last year from her two rental properties in Seattle.

Candidates’ financial disclosure forms and campaign finance data are available at the Public Disclosure Commission.

The 2021 Seattle Mayor’s Race By the Numbers

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

by Erica C. Barnett

With just over a month to go before the 2021 Seattle mayoral election, both Lorena González and Bruce Harrell have amassed financial support worth well over a million dollars, including both direct contributions (which are capped at $550) and independent expenditures (which are unlimited). But a closer look at campaign contributions and expenditures reveals key differences between the candidates’ supporters and how they’re spending their campaign funds.

As of Tuesday, September 28, González had raised about $661,000 and spent around $509,000, including both direct expenditures and debt owed to campaign consultants, pollsters, and fundraisers. Harrell has spent about the same amount as González but has raised about $300,000 more, leaving him with more cash on hand heading into October.

The two candidates’ funding looks considerably more balanced, however, when you include independent expenditures (IE) that PACs and other interest groups are making on each candidate’s behalf. An IEindependent expenditure campaign funded by large real-estate interests has raised nearly $915,000 to boost Harrell’s campaign, while a labor-backed IE has raised nearly as much — $828,000 — to support González. (IEndependent expenditure campaigns are separate from candidates’ campaigns and can’t coordinate their unrestricted spending with the campaigns themselves.).

Essential Workers for Lorena has spent more money than Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future (including more than $110,000 on dried cherries that were included in a primary-election mailer), leaving the campaign with about $80,000 less on hand. The graphic below represents, from right to left, the amount of money the two IE campaigns have spent, how much they have raised, and the amount they have left on hand.

Campaign spending reflects a candidate’s priorities — what they think it will take to get out the vote and bring undecided voters to their side. Both Harrell and González have invested heavily so far in campaign literature (mailers, flyers to drop off at voters’ doors, and the like) and advertising, including cable TV (for both candidates) and print ads (for Harrell, whose ad buys included the Seattle Medium; Seattle Gay News, and Northwest Asian Weekly.) González’ campaign spent more than $50,000 on polling and spent twice as much on in-house campaign expenses (about $108,000) asthan Harrell (about $51,000) while spending almost the same amount of money on consultants. TV ads are considered the most effective way of getting voters’ attention, although the amount of money campaigns still spend on mailings suggests that they still have some impact (or that the consultants who profit from producing them have convinced candidates that they’re worth the money.).

Sorting by neighborhood, West Seattle resident González has the largest number of contributors in the following ZIP codes: 98103 (Wallingford, Fremont, Phinney Ridge), 98118 (Southeast Seattle), 98122 (the Central District), 98116 (West Seattle, including Alki), and 98144 (Beacon Hill to Mount Baker.) The top five ZIP codes for Harrell contributors are 98115 (Roosevelt, Wedgwood, and Green Lake), 98118, 98112 (Madison Park, North Capitol Hill), 98103, and 98105 (the University District, Laurelhurst). This is a fairly strong geographic split that parallels the split between business, which is backing Harrell, and labor, which is backing González. While it would be foolhardy to suggest that González doesn’t have support from people who live in wealthier, less diverse, and more conservative neighborhoods, or that Harrell lacks support in the Southeast Seattle district he represented on the Seattle City Ccouncil for four years, these are several data points among many that reveal each candidate’s base of support.


Another potentially revealing data point is the size of the contributions candidates receive from donors. Although Seattle campaign finance rules limit contributions in the mayoral race to $550, many people who can’t afford to “max out” give considerably less — particularly, this year, to González, who has raised thousands more sub-$50 contributions than Harrell, who received more than twice as many large contributions (between $250 and $500) asthan González.

Finally, a quick look at the big picture. While Harrell has raised more money overall than González, González actually has more contributors, because more of her supporters have given small amounts than Harrell’s. Just 77 contributors maxed out to González, giving the maximum allowed donation of $550, while Harrell received 321 maxed-out donations. Although candidates who accept democracy vouchers, as both González and Harrell have, are supposed to spend no more than $800,000 between the primary and general elections, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission routinely raises those limits when the total value of a campaign for or against a candidate, including independent expenditures, exceeds those limits. In other words: Expect this year’s mayoral election, much like the last one, to be one of the most expensive in Seattle history.

Although candidates who accept democracy vouchers, as both González and Harrell have, are supposed to spend no more than $800,000 between the primary and general elections, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission routinely raises those limits when the total value of a campaign for or against a candidate, including IE, exceeds those limits. In other words: Expect this year’s mayoral election, much like the last one, to be one of the most expensive in Seattle history.

SPD Hosts Relationship Seminar by Demoted Ex-Chief, Compassion Seattle Passes the Hat; Ban on SPD Travel to Israel Fails

1. The Seattle Police Department’s ongoing push to scale up its officer wellness program is veering into intimate territory: Next week, former SPD assistant chief Nick Metz will host a dinner and relationship counseling workshop for officers alongside his wife, Dr. Sara Metz—a clinical psychologist who specializes in first responders. To sweeten the deal (and extend the “intimate” atmosphere?), the department is offering a limited number of complimentary hotel rooms to couples who attend the workshop.

After two years of staggering attrition, officer wellness programming has taken on a new significance for SPD. According to a flyer distributed to department employees, the Metz workshop is meant to address “relationship issues typically encountered by police officers”—a complaint that long predates the department’s current staffing crisis.

In November 2013, Interim Chief Jim Pugel demoted Metz from assistant chief to captain during a brief purge of department leaders Pugel believed were impediments to the reforms outlined in Seattle’s consent decree: an agreement with the US Department of Justice to correct a pattern of racial bias and excessive force by SPD officers. Within two months of his demotion, Metz briefly returned to the rank of assistant chief under new Interim SPD Chief Harry Bailey before leaving the department entirely to lead the Aurora, Colorado police department in 2015.

Metz retired in October 2019 to join his wife’s counseling practice; his retirement came on the heels of the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old unarmed Black man whom Aurora police officers placed in a chokehold while paramedics administered a fatal dose of ketamine. A Colorado grand jury indicted three of the officers and two paramedics for manslaughter and negligent homicide earlier this month.

The campaign, which raised more than a million dollars in its effort to get Charter Amendment 29 on the ballot, owes Seattle-based Foster Garvey more than $216,000 for legal services, according to reports filed at the Public Disclosure Commission—and that’s on top of $44,000 the campaign already paid the firm.

At the time of his exit from SPD, Metz was also at the center of a lawsuit against the department by a sergeant who said she experienced retaliation for complaining about Metz’s preferential assignment of lucrative overtime hours to a small group of his closest friends. A King County Superior Court jury later ruled against the department, awarding $2.8 million to the sergeant and a captain who sided with her.

2. Compassion Seattle, the business-backed campaign that wanted to change the Seattle City Charter to require the city to add thousands of shelter beds with no new money in order to keep public spaces “free and clear” of encampments, is asking supporters to help them pay their debts, including hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills to defend the initiative. As PubliCola reported, a King County Superior Court judge roundly rejected the measure as outside the scope of the initiative process, a ruling that the state Court of Appeals upheld one week later.

In an email to supporters, the campaign declared a kind of moral victory, crediting themselves with “chang[ing] the civic conversation” by raising homelessness as an issue. “Help us communicate our message effectively and retire our debt,” the email says.

The campaign, which raised more than a million dollars in its effort to get Charter Amendment 29 on the ballot, owes Seattle-based Foster Garvey more than $216,000 for legal services, according to reports filed at the Public Disclosure Commission—and that’s on top of $44,000 the campaign already paid the firm.

Other notable campaign debts and expenditures include: $22,000 to the Downtown Seattle Association;$232,000 to political consulting firm Cerillon N4 Partners; $98,000 to political consulting firm Blue Wave Partners; $151,000 to political consulting firm The Feary Group; and $1.1 million to the Utah-based signature-gathering firm Landslide Political.

In its letter, the Compassion Seattle campaign notes that “We successfully gathered more than 60,000 signatures on petitions.” That depends on your definition of “success”; in reality, almost half of those signatures were tossed out as invalid, meaning that the campaign and its supporters—mostly large downtown real estate interests—spent about $32 for each of 34,714 valid signatures. 

3. After a nearly three-hour debate, the city council voted narrowly to reject Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s “End the Deadly Exchange” legislation, which would have banned Seattle police officers and management from training in, participating in “exchange” programs with, or taking any official travel to Israel. Although Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Lorena González abstained during a committee vote on the bill, saying they hoped to work with Sawant to refine the legislation to make it a more neutral condemnation of countries that commit human rights abuses, they both voted “no” in full council, along with Dan Strauss, Debora Juarez, and Alex Pedersen. Continue reading “SPD Hosts Relationship Seminar by Demoted Ex-Chief, Compassion Seattle Passes the Hat; Ban on SPD Travel to Israel Fails”

Fact-Checking Pro-Harrell Mail, Poll Tests Arboreal Opinions, Union’s Role at Homeless Authority Still Unclear

1. The King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s governing board approved a bare-bones initial staffing plan for the agency on Thursday, but not before a lengthy conversation about the future of labor unions at the new agency—and the future of city employees who currently do the work that’s supposed to move over to the authority next year.

The city’s Homeless Strategy and Investment division, which is part of the Human Services Department, is currently represented by the PROTEC17 union, which also represents county human services workers. KCRHA director Marc Dones has said that they want to hire a whole new team for the agency, and that anyone at the city who wants to keep doing their current work will need to apply for the open positions just like everyone else. Dones has also said that although they support unions in general—saying on Thursday, for example, that “we would be delighted to have one or more unions represent our staff”—union reps and at least one city council member want more reassurances.

On Thursday, Seattle City Council president Lorena González told Dones that the law the city passed agreeing to join the new authority requires “a plan for transitioning staff positions to the new authority.” 

Shaun Van Eyk, the labor representative for PROTEC17, told PubliCola that the union wants any succession plan (an agreement that gives the union the right to represent anyone at the new authority who job falls within the “body of work” that existing union-repped employees are already doing) to include a right of first refusal for employees who remained at their city jobs even as the city repeatedly pushed their layoff dates forward. Although permanent HSI employees have been assured jobs elsewhere in the city, many of the jobs in the division are currently filled by long-term temporary workers, who have no job guarantee once the division shuts down.

“Marc has the ability to not only acknowledge PROTEC17 as the exclusive bargaining representative for those bodies of work, but to offer a right of first refusal for those folks doing that work currently,” Van Eyk said. “Part of my duty in this role is to advocate for our members [who have been] keeping the work going, especially with the delays.” The authority is currently about seven months behind schedule, and it’s far from clear that it will be prepared to take over hundreds of contracts from the city’s homelessness division in January as planned.

The larger question is how the new authority, and Dones in particular, will work with organized labor. King County Executive Dow Constantine appeared unnerved enough by the conversation about succession to add, “If I could just be completely frank, it is unlikely, approaching a zero likelihood, that the county or the city would fund a non-union successor to its union operations. That seems inconceivable.”

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2.  A flyer promoting mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell that arrived in voters’ mailboxes last week included what looked like an unusual disclaimer: “No corporate money paid for this mail piece. Hundreds of local residents gave their own personal money to send you this message.” The mailer, produced by an independent expenditure group called Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future, says Harrell, who played for the Huskies, will “go on the offensive to move Seattle forward.”

The claim is a stretch. While Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future is funded by individual donors, the top donors to the IE are employed by, or in charge of, corporations with billions in assets and a huge vested interest in pro-business policies. Among the biggest contributors: Goodman Real Estate CEO George Petrie and his wife, Alyssa ($100,000); Hunters Capital owner Michael Malone and his wife, Barbara ($25,000); and retired seventh-generation banker Joshua Green III ($10,000).

In fact, the top seven employers of people who contributed to Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future (after “not employed”—people who listed their occupation as “retired” or “homemaker,” many of them formerly in real estate or married to real estate bigwigs, made up $98,000 of the group’s approximately $300,000 in contributions) were real estate firms, accounting for $117,750 of the group’s total contributions. So while it’s true that the people who gave money to the pro-Harrell group are “individuals,” their interests could hardly be more corporate if they were writing checks from their company accounts.

Finally: The IE campaign doesn’t have contributions from “hundreds of local residents”; it doesn’t even have 100 contributions, much less 100 from Seattle. About a third of the 79 donors listed at the Public Disclosure Commission live outside city limits, mostly in Eastside suburbs.

3.  An odd new online poll goes far beyond election questions, asking respondents about everything from their support for a future Seattle-only light rail measure to earthquake safety along I-5 to detailed questions about the city’s tree canopy. It’s unclear who’s behind the poll, but the specific issues it highlights dovetail with priorities articulated by council members Lisa Herbold (using bonds to fund bridge maintenance over bike lanes and sidewalks) and Alex Pedersen (bridge money, plus restricting development by preventing tree removal on private property.) Continue reading “Fact-Checking Pro-Harrell Mail, Poll Tests Arboreal Opinions, Union’s Role at Homeless Authority Still Unclear”

Mega Campaign Fizz: Compassion Seattle, Mayoral Money News, González Polls on Homelessness, and Much More!

1. Compassion Seattle, the group backing an initiative that would require the city to divert funds from other purposes to pay for 2,000 shelter beds in order to “clear” parks for housed people to use, announced Thursday that it had collected 64,155 signatures—about twice as many as the number of valid signatures the campaign needs to get the measure on the November ballot.

Even in victory, the campaign claimed to be the victim of “harassment, theft of petitions, assault and significant time delays”—claims it has made in multiple emails to supporters. The campaign did not immediately respond to questions about the incidents, including a request for case numbers in the event that they reported any of the alleged crimes to Seattle police.

UPDATE: In response to PubliCola’s questions, Compassion Seattle provided a list of eight incidents involving signature gatherers. Six involved people ripping clipboards out of people’s hands or destroying signature sheets. The remaining two examples were more dramatic; in one case, someone threw a garbage can at the signature gatherer, and in the other, a woman was “harassed and pushed down” on Capitol Hill.

2. Mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston received permission from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission on Thursday to raise money beyond the legal maximum under Seattle’s democracy voucher program, which limits mayoral campaign fundraising to $400,000 in the primary election. Houston argued (and the commission agreed) that mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell has already exceeded the cap through his own fundraising and that of a political action committee organized on his behalf.

Under city election law, any candidate who has maxed out on campaign spending or fundraising, unless the excess is “minor” or “inadvertent,” can seek a release from the cap as soon as another campaign, or the combination of a campaign and an independent expenditure (IE) campaign acting on the candidate’s behalf, has busted through the cap.

Because IE campaigns can raise and spend unlimited dollars from any source, IE fundraising routinely provides leads to a campaign fundraising free-for-all. Houston’s release from the cap will trigger other candidates who have reached the fundraising limit to seek similar permission to raise and spend more money, effectively neutralizing rules adopted by initiative in 2015 aimed at limiting the impact of money on elections. The initiative, known as Honest Elections, created the voucher program, which gives $100 to every Seattle registered voter to spend on the candidate or candidates of their choice; it also imposed a number of campaign-finance rules, including new contribution and spending limits.

During the 2019 election, the campaigns for city council candidates Jon Grant and Teresa Mosqueda, including a pro-Mosqueda PAC, raised and spent more than $1 million despite a total “campaign valuation” (fundraising) limit of $300,000. Similarly, spending on behalf of successful mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan totaled well over $2 million, despite a formal cap of $800,000.

Ultimately, the only thing that will stem out-of-control spending is a court ruling overturning or limiting the impact of Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that effectively barred limits on campaign spending by corporations and interest groups. Limiting spending by candidates but not committees, commission chair Richard Shordt pointed out Thursday, would limit the “voices” of “the thousands of Seattleites who are using their democracy vouchers” to support campaigns.

3. An online poll—apparently conducted on behalf of mayoral candidate Lorena González’s campaign—tested messages for and against the candidate in a hypothetical election between González and her former council colleague Bruce Harrell, who is currently the presumptive frontrunner.

The poll, which focuses on homelessness, describes González as a former civil rights attorney who was inspired to run “after watching Jenny Durkan give big corporations too much say in city government, side with the police union when cops tear-gassed Seattleites, and let the homelessness crises get worse”; it describes Harrell, more generically, as a former council president who “has the experience and skills to unite our city.” Continue reading “Mega Campaign Fizz: Compassion Seattle, Mayoral Money News, González Polls on Homelessness, and Much More!”

State Goes on Offensive to Save Capital Gains Tax, Police Oversight Group Considers Candidate Forum, and Compassion Seattle Plays Victim

1. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a motion Tuesday seeking to have a Douglas County judge throw out two lawsuits against the capital gains tax. Ferguson argues in his motion that the plaintiffs filed the suits for political reasons and don’t have grounds to sue because they don’t know yet if they’d be subject to the tax.

The capital gains tax bill (SB 5096) imposes a 7 percent tax on profits of $250,000 or more from the sale of intangible financial assets, such as stocks and bonds. The bill would go into effect in 2022, but the state would not collect taxes until January 2023. Roughly 7,000 Washington taxpayers would be subject to the tax, which would generate $415 million for the state in its first year.

Three days after the legislature passed the bill, the Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank, challenged the law in court. Less than a month later, former attorney general Rob McKenna, along with the Washington Farm Bureau, filed a second lawsuit against the bill. Both suits were filed in conservative Douglas County.

The lawsuits say taxing capital gains is unconstitutional because capital gains are property, and all property must be taxed at a uniform rate in Washington because of a 1933 state Supreme Court decision.

However, Democrats have argued that the capital gains tax is an excise (sales) tax, not a property tax, because it is triggered by the sale of financial assets.

Ferguson argued that the plaintiffs have asked the court to settle a political dispute, rather than a legal one, noting that they “are suffering no legal harm from the tax they challenge and ask this Court to issue a purely advisory political opinion.” He also argued that the lawsuits are preemptive and speculative, since the plaintiffs don’t know whether they’ll even have to pay the tax when it goes into effect in 2023.

The state Supreme Court is also hearing arguments for a lawsuit against the state’s 2019 bank business and occupation tax (HB 2167), which was also filed by McKenna. Washington State Solicitor General Noah Purcell argued at the court on May 25 that state law prohibits lawsuits against taxes until they have gone into effect. If the court sides with Purcell, the lawsuits against the capital gains tax might have to wait until state residents actually pay the tax, which wouldn’t be until 2023 at the earliest.

State Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Seattle) said that if the court dismisses the lawsuits, it will only delay the inevitable: having the state Supreme Court reviewing the law. Democrats want the court to review the tax because they believe the court would overturn the previous ruling declaring income a form of property, which would blow the doors open for an income tax.

The next hearing for the cases is set for July 13 at 10am, with Douglas County Superior Court Judge Brian Huber presiding.

2. The future of the Seattle Police Department is front-and-center in the upcoming elections, but some members of Seattle’s Community Police Commission (CPC)—the branch of the city’s police oversight system tasked with gathering community input on police reforms—are wary of wading into electoral politics.

Reverend Harriet Walden, the commission’s longest-serving member, also opposed the candidate forum. “It’s not part of our mission,” she said.

During the CPC meeting Wednesday, CPC communications director Jesse Franz described plans that are already underway for a general election forum that the CPC plans to co-host alongside a community organization involved in criminal justice reform, such as Choose 180 or Community Passageways.

But some prominent members of the commission pushed back on the plan. Suzette Dickerson, who will represent the CPC during contract negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers Guild next year, argued that hosting a candidate forum was outside the scope of the CPC’s responsibilities. From her perspective, the commission’s role is to be a sounding board for Seattle residents’ opinions on reforms to SPD; “stepping into the political arena,” she argued, would undermine public trust in the commission.

Reverend Harriet Walden, the commission’s longest-serving member, also opposed the candidate forum. “It’s not part of our mission,” she said, adding that she isn’t confident that the CPC would allow community groups opposed to downsizing SPD to have a voice in the forum. “I think that we’re headed down a path to help social engineer the defunding the police department,” she said.

The commission’s current leaders, however, supported the idea. “To me, holding a candidate forum seems within the scope of ensuring that the community is informed about what accountability may or may not look like, in particular candidates minds,” said CPC co-chair LaRond Baker.

Though the CPC can’t endorse candidates, the commission is not a neutral player in the police oversight sphere: It recommends reforms to SPD and Seattle’s police oversight system. Recent CPC recommendations have included a ban on tear gas and removing limits on the number of civilian investigators in the Office of Police Accountability. The success of those recommendations depends on the support of the mayor, the council, and the police chief, which gives the CPC a clear stake in the outcome of the election.

“Opponents have been using increasingly violent tactics against our signature collection teams,” the solicitation for funds claims. “We must persevere, and we need your help to ensure we reach 33,060 signatures by June 25.”

3. In a fundraising email Tuesday, the Compassion Seattle campaign, which is gathering signatures to get its charter amendment on homelessness on the November ballot, claimed that several of its paid signature gatherers have been attacked by people who oppose the initiative.

“Opponents have been using increasingly violent tactics against our signature collection teams,” the solicitation for funds claims. “We must persevere, and we need your help to ensure we reach 33,060 signatures by June 25.” Continue reading “State Goes on Offensive to Save Capital Gains Tax, Police Oversight Group Considers Candidate Forum, and Compassion Seattle Plays Victim”