We’re about two months away from the May 15 filing deadline for city council elections, the point when no more candidates can add their names to the 52 (as of this posting) who have put their names in contention. Will the number grow to 70, for an average of 10 candidates per council race on the ballot? Will any of these candidates raise any money, or are the top two in most races already a foregone conclusion? How much money will be spent in this election, the first election under the new district system in which none of the candidates are holdovers from the pre-district system?
Those questions are obviously speculative, but a look at the money—who’s raising it, who’s spending it, and who’s benefiting—can provide some clues. Here are a few observations from the first month in which candidates have ramped up (or, in some cases, slacked off) on raising and spending on their campaigns.
A quick note about campaign fundraising figures: Cash on hand numbers are approximate, because campaigns only disclose expenditures at the end of the month. I haven’t provided cash on hand numbers for every candidate, because those numbers are less relevant now than they will be further along in the campaign, when candidates need money to drum up votes and every dollar really counts. Because many candidates choose to report contributions as they come in—a practice that becomes mandatory in the final days of the campaign—contributions are often more up to date than expenditures. When a candidate has not reported any contributions after their most recent monthly filing, I will note “as of February 28” to make that clear.
Democracy vouchers are a form of public campaign financing the city of Seattle first started using in 2017. To qualify, candidates must get at least 150 signatures and 150 donations of $10 or more from Seattle residents. Every Seattle resident received four vouchers worth $25 each, which they can contribute to any qualifying candidate. Candidates who accept democracy vouchers are subject to campaign contribution and spending limits, including an individual contribution cap of $250. Candidates who don’t participate aren’t subject to those limits, and can take contributions up to $500.
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In District 1 (West Seattle), incumbent Lisa Herbold has raised the most from actual contributors, with $13,014 in contributions and about $11,996 on hand. Phillip Tavel, an attorney who got 18 percent of the vote in his run for the same seat in 2015, reported more contributions as of February 28—$17,571—but $10,590 of that was Tavel’s own money. Meanwhile, Tavel has spent $16,565. Once other debts are factored in, Tavel has a negative balance of $9,599.
Some of Tavel’s expenses, interestingly, came in the form of refunds to supporters who gave $500—the maximum contribution for candidates who aren’t accepting democracy vouchers. Tavel’s largest contribution is now $250, indicating that he now hopes to take advantage of the public financing program. As of February 28, he had 61 contributors from Seattle—89 shy of the 150 Seattle voters whose signatures and contributions he will need to qualify.
The other District 1 candidates haven’t made much of a play so far; one, SPD lieutenant and two-time state house candidate Brendan Kolding, has seemingly done nothing except loan himself money and pay it back. He has contributions from 33 Seattle residents, plus four out-of-towners with the last name Kolding.
In District 2, Ari Hoffman—the Safe Seattle-backed candidate who was in the news, most recently, for promoting an unfounded conspiracy theory about a beheading-by-saw in a homeless encampment near the Mount Baker light rail station—leads the pack in fundraising with $20,280, in part because he is not seeking democracy vouchers and can accept $500 contributions. (His latest contribution list includes two dozen such donations). Hoffman shares a campaign manager named Veronica Garcia with Ann Sattler, who is running against incumbent Debora Juarez in District 5. He has spent about $350 on Facebook ads so far.
Tammy Morales—who made it through the primary for the same seat in 2015 and narrowly lost to council incumbent Bruce Harrell—has brought in $17,699 in contributions so far, a number that will likely grow quickly (in 2015, running against an incumbent, she raised nearly $75,000). As of the end of February, Morales had a negative balance of $2,609; $3,075 in new contributions reported on March 13 should just push her into the black.
Christopher Peguero, a Seattle City Light employee and community advocate, has raised just $6,435 so far—$3,544 of that from Peguero himself—but is making decent progress toward qualifying for vouchers, with 118 contributors. South Seattle bike advocate Phyllis Porter has raised $2,618, but had already spent $12,212 as of February 28—most of that on consultants CD Strategic ($7,857) and Blue Wave Political Partners ($4,366), putting her $10,285 in the hole. Mark Solomon, SPD’s crime prevention coordinator for south and southwest Seattle, has raised $4,307. The majority of that money (53%) comes from outside city limits, but it also includes a large number of small, democracy voucher-level contributions of $10 or $20; so far, Solomon has 45 contributions toward the 150 required to qualify.
The race for District 3 presents an interesting financial picture because the incumbent, Kshama Sawant, is not taking democracy vouchers (she says she needs to be able to raise as much as possible in anticipation of “big-business” groups spending up to a million dollars to defeat her.) Partly as a result, Sawant is blowing her opponents away in fundraising, with $50,948 in contributions so far, including a Bernie-approved $27 donation to herself. So far, the overwhelming majority (84 percent) of Sawant’s contributions come from outside her district, with half her contributions coming from outside the city of Seattle itself. More than half of Sawant’s donations are maxed-out $500 contributions.
So far, the onslaught of corporate-backed candidates Sawant predicted has not materialized. King County public defender Ami Nguyen has raised about $11,398, mostly (72%) from out of town. Sawant’s closest competitor, Hashtag Cannabis owner Logan Bowers, has raised $30,572 so far, including $5,800 in democracy vouchers. A quarter of that money comes from inside District 3 (for incumbent Sawant, that number is 16%.) Bowers has spent a fair amount—about $1,300—to access the Washington State Democrats’ donor database.
Nine candidates are running in District 4, which incumbent Rob Johnson is abdicating after a single term, so I’ll limit my fundraising-related comments to the handful with significant contributions. (Obviously, it’s early days, so any of the candidates I don’t mention here, like Abel Pacheco and Cathy Tuttle, could have a fundraising surge later on.) First on that list is Alex Pedersen, a former aide to ex-council member Tim Burgess who expressed some potentially incendiary views about transit and homelessness on his since-deleted neighborhood newsletter. Pedersen has raised $44,954 so far, including $12,050 from democracy vouchers—a number that goes down to $26,518 once $18,436 of Pedersen’s own money is excluded. Pedersen’s contributors include 2015 District 4 candidate Tony Provine (creator of the infamous “bulldozers are coming” campaign mailer), Fremont property magnate and anti-bike-lane activist Suzie Burke; and well-known anti-density activists Toby Thaler, Bill Bradburd, and Susanna Lin (Lin and Thaler are on the board of Seattle Fair Growth, a group that helped sue to stop the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan the city council is finally adopting on Monday).
Emily Myers, a Ph. D candidate at the University of Washington, has raised $8,028 so far, including several hundred in $27 contributions (and 86% of it from outside her district). Shaun Scott, who is running as a member of the Democratic Socialists, has raised $14,884, including about 60 $27 contributions. No District 4 candidate other than Pedersen has qualified for democracy vouchers so far, although Scott appears to have enough qualifying contributions (the city’s democracy website does not indicate how many signatures a candidate is gathered until he or she turns them in). Nineteen-year-old college student Ethan Hunter, the subject of several fluffy media profiles when he announced he was running earlier this year, has reported no campaign activity since December 12.
District 5 incumbent Debora Juarez rarely lets a turn at the mic go by without mentioning her North Seattle district, and her relentless advocacy for her district has paid off in the form of a fairly frictionless campaign so far. Her opponents include two perennial candidates, plus Thornton Creek Alliance activist John Lombard, and attorney and former Seattle Supersonics employee Ann Sattler, who appears to be running on a law-and-order platform and is not seeking democracy vouchers. Sattler has raised $9,237, a number that includes $4,137 of her own money. (Most of the remaining $5,000 is from $500 contributions). Juarez, meanwhile, has raised $10,500 and has registered, but not yet qualified for, democracy vouchers.
District 6, the seat being vacated by 10-year incumbent Mike O’Brien, is the most crowded council race so far, with a dozen candidates competing to represent Northwest Seattle. It’s safe to say, though, that most of those candidates aren’t viable, and that one, former council member Heidi Wills, is already a likely frontrunner based on name recognition alone, even though she hasn’t raised much money (just $1,370, for a negative balance of $2,285 after the cost of building her website is factored in) since declaring her candidacy earlier this month. Jay Fathi, a Fremont doctor who hired local campaign veteran Christian Sinderman as his campaign consultant, is seeking to qualify for vouchers (he has 102 qualifying contributions so far), and is in the red, or just above it, despite $15,695 in contributions because he owes $12,769 to Sinderman’s firm.
Two other candidates raising money in District 6 are Jon Lisbin, who received 13% in his 2015 candidate for the same position (he’s raised $13,036, including $6,010 in contributions from himself), Dan Strauss, a legislative aide to District 7 incumbent Sally Bagshaw ($11,133), and Kate Martin, who previously ran for school board and mayor and was behind an unsuccessful campaign to preserve a section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct as part of an elevated waterfront park ($6,175).
District 7 incumbent Sally Bagshaw is the fourth council incumbent to announce her retirement this year, and eight candidates have lined up so far to seek her old job. So far, the clear frontrunner appears to be former interim police chief Jim Pugel, who has started racking up progressive endorsements and has raised nearly twice as much as his two leading competitors, with $35,796 in contributions (about a third of them, interestingly, from people who list “not employed” as their employment status, which usually indicates someone is retired). Pugel also appears to be using Sinderman’s firm, Northwest Passage, as his primary consultant. Andrew Lewis, the onetime campaign manager for former council member Nick Licata, has raised $19,155, which includes contributions from several former local, county, and state elected officials (Peter Steinbrueck, Martha Choe, Larry Phillips). Kidder Matthews development consultant Michael George has raised $18,325, largely from people in the development and building industry (and 51% from outside city limits). Naveed Jamali and Jason Williams also have relatively active campaigns; I’ll report more on their fundraising if it picks up significantly. So far, only Lewis has qualified for democracy vouchers (and has received $2,950 in voucher form); George and Williams are both seeking to qualify, and Jamali is not participating.
For up-to-date election information, check out the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission’s campaign website. For current information on democracy vouchers, go to the city’s Democracy Voucher page.