Why Sawant is right (and wrong) to go after Amazon

Sep 25, 2019, 3:05 PM

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, protests...

Councilmember Kshama Sawant. (AP)


On Monday, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant published an article on CounterPunch, lambasting Amazon’s attempts to influence Seattle’s upcoming November election. And while her concerns are in many ways valid, they also bring to mind a phrase about stones and glass houses.

To start, here’s the issue: Companies like Amazon are pouring money into 2019’s council races at a near-unprecedented rate. Entities with cash and influence smell blood in the water in Seattle with seven of nine council seats up for grabs, and they all want a piece of the pie.

Business, labor groups dump big money to reshape Seattle council

More specifically, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s PAC — the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, or CASE – has dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into various races. Amazon, Puget Sound Energy, the Washington Realtors Association and other business groups are among those contributors.

As part of political action committees, these companies can collect and spend as much as they want for or against candidates, as long as they don’t coordinate their efforts with candidates. Sawant has a point on that front, especially if you’re a progressive in Seattle.

“Big business in Seattle is carrying out an unprecedented assault of corporate PAC money against socialist and progressive candidates in this year’s elections,” she penned on CounterPunch.

While a politically charged statement, that’s substantively true — the corporate PAC money we’re seeing right now is in many ways troubling. We recently saw firsthand how a company can bend policy to its will with the head tax debacle in early 2018.

But that criticism rings a little false when you consider where Sawant’s own donations are coming from.

As of Sept. 24, 48 percent of the District 3 councilmember’s campaign contributions have come from outside of Seattle city limits. Dig a little beneath that, and you’ll see donations coming from well outside of the state, from places like Boston, Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and more.

Sawant continues to lead in Seattle council campaign contributions

In total, she’s accepted over $332,000 in campaign money, outpacing the next council candidate by over $100,000.

Comparatively, her District 3 opponent Egan Orion is getting 61 percent of his contributions from inside District 3, and just over 7 percent from outside Seattle.

So, yes. It’s a little slice of “whataboutism” to point at Sawant’s donations when confronted with the issue of corporate money in local politics. But it’s one worth pointing out when a large portion of her platform is predicated on a critique of outside money. That being so, when almost half your funding is coming from outside the literal state of Washington, that’s about as “outside” as it gets.

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Why Sawant is right (and wrong) to go after Amazon