Rantz: Kshama Sawant ditches democracy vouchers for big, outsider money

Jan 28, 2019, 5:47 AM | Updated: 1:12 pm
Kshama Sawant, democracy vouchers...
(KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

Losing much of the union enthusiasm and support she once held, Seattle’s Socialist City Councilmember Kshama Sawant is turning down democracy vouchers so she can accept big cash donations from out-of-district and out-of-state interests that help keep her in power.

Related: Sawant faces ethics complaint for allowing Socialists to fire staffer

And as she defends her position, she reveals a dirty truth about how she views her constituents: Sawant thinks her supporters are easily bought and she needs big money to convince them that she’s the right person to represent them on the council.

At her re-election campaign announcement last week, unlike her political opponents, Sawant showed support for democracy vouchers, but claimed “corporate PACs and big business lobbyists and big developers” will flood the campaign with dollars to defeat her and she needs higher than normal campaign dollars to fight back. In other words, she’ll run yet another campaign like an outsider trying to buy an election would.

To be fair, I’m glad Sawant won’t take democracy vouchers. It’s a ludicrous program that forces taxpayers to fund fringe, hateful campaigns. That I’d be forced to fund a council member with virulently anti-Semitic positions would, as a Jew, deeply disturb me.

And Sawant is not wholly wrong in her concern, even if the optics are bad. There’s little doubt people are more motivated now, than before, to defeat her. But she put herself in that position by being the face of disunity.

Many on the council do not want to work with her, I’m told, even when they share her positions, because she attempts to steal the spotlight, in desperate need for fulsome compliments to help push her brand. She has the tendency to create conflict, where none exist, to differentiate herself from her colleagues and earn more press coverage. It certainly has worked, but it’s also cost her support.

Union support for her position has taken a dramatic hit. Pete Lamb, senior business agent for Teamsters Local 174, said anger and angst between the unions and Sawant exists. Her politics were called “divisive” by Monte Anderson, executive secretary for Seattle Building Trades, which once-upon-a-time endorsed her. And cops in Seattle’s Police Officers Guild loathe her. Sawant’s fight to tank SPD’s contract was an embarrassing failure that struggled to motivate local support.

With her support not as strong as it once was, she’ll be even more reliant on outside dollars, something her campaign has always leaned on heavily. In 2015, Sawant raised the vast majority of her funds – 40 percent – from folks living outside of Seattle, many living outside of Washington. Only 20 percent of campaign funds came from within her district and they came in small contributions.

Some of Sawant’s biggest donations came from California, Illinois, and Texas. She outspent her opponent, a disaster of a campaign waged by Pamela Banks, by about $100,000 and, despite a poorly-run campaign, Banks did better than Sawant’s camp had predicted.

As of right now, there’s no evidence to suggest big dollars are playing a role in funding her campaign opponents. Indeed, they’ve all indicated they’ll participate in the democracy vouchers program.

“I’m taking democracy vouchers, so are other contenders, which means if Kshama participated, we’d all be limited to $150,000 in spending,” opponent Logan Bowers tweeted. “By rejecting public funding, she’s bringing in the big, out-of-city money.  Her financing says she’s representing someone, but it isn’t us.”

Well, Sawant has never been about representing anyone other than herself and her fringe, small group of Socialist Alternative loyalists. So, at least she’s consistent.

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Rantz: Kshama Sawant ditches democracy vouchers for big, outsider money