Category: campaign finance

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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So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

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”

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. Continue reading “Where This Year’s Campaign Money Is Coming From”

Street Sinks Stalled, Racism in Renton, and an Election Lightning Round

1. Last year, after the COVID pandemic forced the closure of most public and publicly accessible restrooms across the city, advocates for people experiencing homelessness suggested a creative approach to help stop the spread of COVID: Cheap, portable handwashing sinks that could be installed in any location with access to a public water outlet.

The first Street Sink, a collaboration between Real Change and the University of Washington College of Built Environments, was installed outside the ROOTS young-adult shelter in the University District last May. The prototype consisted of a basic utility sink with a soap dispenser that drained into a steel trough filled with soil and water-loving plants.

The Seattle City Council added $100,000 to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed 2021 budget for a street-sink pilot project last November, hoping to capitalize on the success of the prototype and expand the sinks to neighborhoods across the city. Since then, though, the project has stalled.

According to communications between staff for Seattle Public Utilities, the Department of Neighborhoods, and street-sink proponents, the city has a range of outstanding concerns, including the environment (the soil-based system is not equipped to deal with “blackwater,” or unfiltered human waste), the weather (if left unwrapped, the sinks’ pipes may not be able to withstand a hard freeze), and accessibility (the sinks, though wheelchair-accessible, are not fully ADA compliant. Neither, for that matter, are many of the city’s public restrooms).

“It’s incredibly frustrating, because we’re getting bogged down in process instead of acting with urgency” to provide people living unsheltered with soap and water to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, Tiffani McCoy, the lead organizer for Real Change, said. Since the pandemic began, there have been repeated outbreaks of hepatitis A and other communicable diseases among the city’s homeless population; in the case of a recent shigella outbreak, the rise in cases coincided with the regular winter closure of public restrooms with running water. The city provides portable toilets in locations where restrooms are closed, but these “sanicans” are not equipped with sinks and often lack hand sanitizer.

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Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

The prototype for the Street Sink cost about $400. A more detailed budget puts the cost of each sink at just over than $750. More elaborate sinks with sewer connections or barrel collection systems would cost significantly more; last year, for example, Seattle Makers proposed a stainless-steel handwashing station that includes collection barrels, electronic sensors, a GPS connection, and components “built to withstand abuse from hammers,” for whatever reason, all at a cost of $7,250 per sink.

McCoy says $100,000 would fund the installation of 63 street sinks around the city. But the city seems unlikely to use the prototype her group designed. Instead, according to emails from the city’s Department of Neighborhoods, the city is planning to “pivot” away from the Street Sink project to a new “expanded mutual aid opportunity – the Community Water and Waste Innovation Pilot” that will “facilitate solutions that meet our safety and regulatory guidelines. For example, we will match sink prototypes without safety and blackwater issues to Real Change, or another implementing organization.”

PubliCola has reached out to the mayor’s office to find out more about the Community Water and Waste Innovation Pilot and to see if there is any timeline for the city to actually deploy the handwashing stations funded last year.

2.The Renton Chamber of Commerce issued a statement on Facebook over the weekend defending the organization and its director, Diane Dobson, against unspecified allegations of racism.

The statement read, in part, “The Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Renton Chamber of Commerce, Diane Dobson, has been a tireless champion in standing against racism and bias. She has worked to drive diversity, equity and inclusion through numerous community events and actions aimed at addressing racism in our community. The Chamber Board of Directors unanimously stands with and supports Diane as she continues to make a meaningful, positive difference in our community and region.”

A look through the comments on the post clarifies what it’s about. During the recent snowstorm, a woman (identified in by her male companion as “Robin”) threw snowballs at the car of an Asian-American passerby and—according to the text accompanying the video he took after he got out of his car to confront her—called him a “fucking ch*nk.” In the video, posted on the Youtube channel RevealKarens, the man asks the apparently intoxicated woman repeatedly why she used that term, as she grows more and more agitated and finally says she did it because he was being “a dick.”

Eventually, according to the man’s account, Dobson came by and convinced the woman to leave. In subsequent comments on the Facebook thread, the person behind the Chamber account responded to criticism by praising Dobson in increasingly lavish terms, describing her “wonderful” work in the community and referring to “reports we have received of her donations of masks to the School District for teachers and staff and many of the front line workers in essential nonprofits as well.” The responses became so focused on Dobson, the person, rather than the Chamber as an entity that many commenters assumed that the  person posting for the Chamber was Dobson herself.

Dobson’s name has appeared in PubliCola before. She has been a vocal opponent of a shelter at the Red Lion Hotel in downtown Renton and onto city streets, blaming its homeless residents for the economic downturn in downtown Renton, and reportedly threatened to revoke an LGBTQ+ organization’s Chamber membership over their advocacy in favor of the shelter.

3. Lightning-round election news:

Brianna Thomas, a legislative aide to council president and mayoral candidate Lorena González, will make her candidacy for González’ position official later this week. (González is relinquishing her seat to run for mayor.) Thomas ran once before, in 2015, for the West Seattle council seat now occupied by Lisa Herbold. Continue reading “Street Sinks Stalled, Racism in Renton, and an Election Lightning Round”

A Brief Guide to Seattle’s New Lobbying Rules

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

By Erica C. Barnett

Last week, the Seattle City Council quietly adopted legislation that will have far-reaching implications for groups that mobilize ordinary people to lobby the mayor, city council, and other city officials.

The bill, proposed by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) and shepherded by council president Lorena González, will require so-called grassroots lobbyists to register with the city and disclose their contributions and expenditures.

Although the proposal passed with little opposition, it makes a number of significant changes to Seattle’s campaign disclosure law that will impact groups on every part of the political spectrum. Here’s a closer look at the legislation and some of the ways it will change how campaigns operate in Seattle — and what the public knows about them.

First, what was the impetus for this legislation?

According to González, the SEEC decided to take a closer look at its lobbying rules in 2019, after the Seattle Times reported that a consulting firm that worked on Mayor Jenny Durkan’s campaign, Sound View Strategies, also advised her on issues after she was elected. “There was a lot of ambiguity around who had to disclose [that they were lobbying],” González said.

As the SEEC discussed who is and isn’t a lobbyist, they decided to ask the council to define “lobbying” more broadly, to include efforts to influence not just elected officials but city employees in influential positions, such as deputy mayors and department heads. And they decided to tackle the definition of “lobbyist” itself, redefining the term to include people and organizations that mobilize members of the public to advocate for or against legislation.

So how does the bill change the definition of “lobbying” and “lobbyist”?

Any group or person that spends $750 a month or more on a campaign to mobilize the public on an issue — for example, a group that works to convince people to make public comments opposing the demolition of a nightclub important to the Seattle music scene in the ‘90s — is now considered a grassroots lobbyist and must register with the city and disclose where their money is coming from and how they’re spending it. The SEEC recommended this change because of the rise in what’s known as indirect lobbying — using the public, rather than direct pressure on elected leaders, as a lobbying tool.

The other change to the definition of lobbying impacts traditional lobbyists — the 300 or so people who have already registered with the city and who already report their contributions and expenditures. These folks will now have to report when they’re being paid to lobby not just elected officials but their deputies, top staff, department heads, and anyone who reports directly to any of those people. The idea is to acknowledge the fact that people who aren’t at the top of the org chart still have the power to influence policy and legislation — that meeting with the deputy mayor or the chief of staff for a council member, in some cases, is as good as meeting with the mayor or council member herself.

This “grassroots lobbying” concept is confusing. Can you give a couple more examples?

Other examples of grassroots lobbyists might include an organization that pays a former city candidate to write reports denouncing a proposed new misdemeanor defense or a political organization that runs email and social media campaigns to “pack city hall” in favor of legislation imposing new taxes on big businesses. An elected official, however, can’t be a grassroots lobbyist, because they’re categorically exempt from the lobbying regulations. So while Socialist Alternative might have to register if they spend their own money stapling “Tax Amazon” posters to light poles around town, Council Member Kshama Sawant is free to use her office to rally the public for or against legislation without signing up as a lobbyist.

The  idea of “grassroots lobbying” isn’t new, by the way — the city bill is modeled on existing state law that imposes similar requirements on state-level lobbyists and influence groups.

How does the legislation address the original problem the SEEC set out to solve — the issue of campaign consultants turning around and lobbying the people she worked for?

The new law will require those lobbyists to disclose that they also worked for campaigns. This will most likely impact a handful of prominent lobbyists whose work for campaigns and on behalf of interest groups that lobby the city is already a matter of public record. Although the Seattle Times suggested a nefarious cover-up by the consultants who worked on Durkan’s campaign and then turned around and lobbied her on behalf of other clients, the story was basically a headline in search of scandal.

How many people and groups might this impact — and why aren’t they pissed?

It’s hard to know exactly how many individuals and organizations will have to register as grassroots lobbyists under the new law. Registration itself is free, but as a staff memo attached to the legislation notes, groups could have to shoulder administrative costs to stay in compliance, and the SEEC reserves the right to fine people and groups that violate the city’s lobbying laws.

It’s likely that many groups that do grassroots lobbying are unaware of the new rules, but they’ll find out soon enough. The legislation will take effect around June of next year.

Anything else I need to know?

It’s important to remember that this legislation won’t impact individuals making public comment or writing emails to the city council or organizations with all-volunteer or no-budget lobbying arms. The point of the bill is to increase transparency to the public about who is trying to influence legislation and who’s paying for it, not to create burdens on individuals or nonprofits that rarely or never lobby the city.

Continue reading “A Brief Guide to Seattle’s New Lobbying Rules”

Mysterious Lobbying Group Pushes Out Misleading Messages on Police Defunding

Change Washington’s website includes this image of former police chief Carmen Best and current fire chief Harold Scoggins surrounded by members of their respective forces. PubliCola has asked whether Scoggins, who has stayed out of the police defunding debate, gave Change Washington permission to use his image for lobbying purposes.

By Erica C. Barnett

This week, Change Washington—a lobbying group established by former Bellevue-area state senator Rodney Tom, along with several Republican donors and a former Zillow executive—sent out an email blast urging recipients to “help us spread the word” about the Seattle City Council’s “dangerous” plan “to weaken our police force without having a backup plan in place.” The call to action is featured on a new Change Washington website called “You Call, They Respond” that specifically targets the Seattle City Council.

Yesterday, the council voted 7-2 against a proposal by council member Kshama Sawant that would halt all police hiring and recruitment in the city. Opponents, including former civil rights attorney (and now council president) Lorena González, argued that a total hiring freeze would lead interim police chief Adrian Diaz to move more detectives in specialty units onto patrol, decimating the department’s ability to investigate domestic violence, elder abuse, and other crimes against vulnerable people. (Earlier this year, as PubliCola reported, Diaz moved 100 detectives onto active patrol duty, boosting the number of officers responding to 911 calls). The police department will shrink this year by about 20 percent, mostly due to officer attrition.

Nonetheless, the “You Call, They Respond” website claims repeatedly that the council is still considering cuts that would “decimate the department’s ability to respond timely and effectively when you need police.” In addition to soliciting donations for Change Washington, the 501(c)4 nonprofit’s call to action includes an email form pre-filled with one of about a half-dozen potential messages. Options include:

I am terrified. Even though the number of incidents and calls for service requiring a police response has more than doubled in the past decade, the total number of police officers will decline under Council’s planned budget. Please throw us a lifeline. Don’t make Seattle less safe. My neighborhood won’t survive.

I feel like you have lost sight of the fact the calls for service in Seattle already include your friends and neighbors who are experiencing either a very bad day or a horrific one. Shame on you. Please work to make Seattle safer. Abandon your plan to cut police by 50%.

Why are you flying blind on issues of policing? Look at the data.  94% of dispatched police responses in 2019 were either Priority 1 (lights and sirens, threat to life), Priority 2 (threat of escalation/harm if help does not arrive soon) or Priority 3 (requiring prompt assistance for a waiting victim). And you want to cut the police force by 50? You have lost touch with reality!

Several claims on the site are misleading or inaccurate. For example, the number of police responding to 911 calls has remained steady or increased over the past two years, even before the police chief moved 100 detectives onto patrol. Since the move, the number of 911 responders has been significantly higher than at any time in the previous year.

According to information compiled by city council central staff, SPD had 536 911 responders in January of 2019. That number was 544 in April, 538 in August, 537 in December, and 563 in April and August. In September, after the transfer, that number increased to 668. During that same period, between January 2019 and September 2020, the number of officers on patrol has increased from 674 to 694 (not “roughly 600,” as one of the calls to action claims).

The fact that most calls are Priority 1, 2, or 3 is not particularly revealing. Although the priority list goes all the way up to 9, the top three priorities account for 97 percent of the time officers spend responding to calls, according to SPD data. Priority 4, which accounts for 1 percent of officer response time, includes things like noise complaints and found property; Priority 5 calls, which make up the remaining 2 percent, include issues such as stolen license plates and injured animals.

It’s unclear who, if anyone, is on Change Washington’s payroll, how much money they’ve raised, or what kind of lobbying-related expenses they’ve accrued. Currently, the city does not require “grassroots lobbyists”—groups that spend money to influence legislation or policy by influencing and mobilizing members of the public—to register as lobbyists or report their funding sources and expenditures.

However, legislation the council will take up later this year could provide more transparency into who’s funding and working for the group. The legislation, which the council will take up December 8, would require grassroots lobbyists to reveal who is funding them, who they are attempting to influence, and what legislation they are seeking to pass, kill, or change. The bill would require detailed monthly reporting, similar to what is already required of people who lobby the city council or mayor directly. It would also expand the definition of “lobbying” to include direct attempts to influence non-elected city staffers.

Change Washington did not immediately respond to an email sent early Friday afternoon requesting information about their funding sources and the information included on the “You Call, They Respond” website. According to Change Washington’s website, “we think there’s room in the political center to find common ground for common sense, data driven governance that moves Seattle and the state forward.” That mission statement fits with the center-right goals of the mostly Republican “Majority Coalition Caucus” Tom formed in the state senate the early 2010s, but it’s pretty far out of step with the current Seattle City Council, which includes just one member, Alex Pedersen, who has consistently raised alarms about cutting SPD’s budget.

Morning Fizz: Homeless Tax Preemption and Election Speculation

Homeless advocates see a hotel in Renton that was converted into a temporary shelter as a major success story. Some local politicians see it differently.

Today’s Fizz:

1. This week, cities across King County will be voting on measures that could reduce the size of a proposed countywide sales tax for very low-income housing by millions. On Monday night, Renton, Tukwila, and Issaquah were among first few cities to decide whether they wanted to pass their own 0.1 percent sales tax, as authorized by the state legislature earlier this year, to pay for housing inside the city for people making up to 60 percent of the area median income. Renton’s council voted “yes” unanimously; Issaquah’s approved it on a 4-3 vote; and Tukwila’s rejected the proposal on a 5-2 vote.

I first reported on the proposals last week. Since then, items to supplant the countywide sales tax, which the King County Council will likely vote on next week, have appeared on city council agendas across, primarily South King County—from Maple Valley to Federal Way to Kent. Every city that opts out of the tax—that is, every city that opts to pass a local version of the tax, with proceeds the city can keep to itself—takes some money away from the potential size of the countywide proposal.

On Monday night, proponents of local taxes argued that suburban cities deserved local autonomy to decide what to build in their communities, and specifically cited an emergency shelter for chronically homeless people in Renton—a hotel that has been touted by advocates and service providers as a major success story because it has enabled people to stabilize and begin to deal with underlying conditions that contribute to their homelessness—as an example of what the county would impose on cities if they didn’t act first, and fast.  “By passing this” local tax, Renton council member Valerie O’Halloran said, “we are retaining 100% of the say of how our money is spent within our community.”

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Opponents of going it alone argued that the whole point of being part of a regional solution to homelessness was to think regionally, because homelessness doesn’t end at any single city’s borders. Tukwila council member De’Sean Quinn pointed out that the countywide proposal, which could raise up to $400 million to purchase existing buildings and convert them to supportive housing for chronically homeless people, is a big pot of money that allows the county bond for an even bigger pot of money; collecting smaller amounts on a local-only basis, he argued, would inevitably lead to slower and smaller developments.

The King County Council will vote on the countywide tax next week.

2. Speaking of the county council, rumor is that longtime Republican council member Pete von Reichbauer (who represents much of South King County) does not plan to run for reelection. Possible contenders for the position include former Democratic state representative Kristine Reeves, Federal Way city council member Lydia Assefa-Dawson, Auburn mayor Nancy Backus, and current Republican state rep Drew Stokesbary. Continue reading “Morning Fizz: Homeless Tax Preemption and Election Speculation”