LOCAL NEWS

Concerns build over ‘short-circuiting’ of Seattle’s fundraising rules for mayoral campaigns

Jun 16, 2021, 12:47 PM | Updated: Jul 5, 2021, 6:21 am
Bruce Harrell, fundraising campaigns, Compassion Seattle...
Mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

While Seattle mayoral candidates have already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through individual contributions and Democracy Vouchers, independent political action committees — which caused a stir among voters in 2019 — are again leading to concerns over the city’s rules regarding fundraising.

4 candidates continue to pace field in Seattle fundraising for mayoral race

Seattle’s 2019 election saw hundreds of thousands of dollars of outside money pour into city council campaigns across 16 registered independent expenditure committees (IECs). And while Seattle’s Democracy Voucher program was originally designed to limit the presence of large-scale outside dollars in political campaigns, IECs have significant latitude to skirt around those guardrails.

“Since IE committees function independently of candidates, there aren’t special rules applicable to candidates who may benefit from IEs,” Seattle Elections and Ethics Commission Executive Director Wayne Barnett told MyNorthwest.

That means that IECs can raise and spend large sums of money in support of whomever they choose outside the spending limits imposed by Democracy Vouchers, provided that candidates aren’t directly involved or soliciting money on behalf of committees.

That saw Amazon donate $1.4 million in a 2019 bid to support council candidates the company viewed as more business friendly. Ultimately, just two of the seven candidates supported by that money won their respective elections.

Fast-forward to 2021, and the race for Seattle mayor has taken on something of a different tone regarding IECs. Despite there being 15 total candidates, just two (Bruce Harrell and Lorena Gonzalez) have committees registered in support of their campaigns, while several others have taken a strong stance against the use of IECs.

For Harrell, the city’s mostly hands-off approach to limiting IEC spending is already working in his favor, thanks to a committee in support of his campaign — dubbed “Harrell for Seattle’s Future” — registered with the city on May 5. That committee has raised nearly $100,000 over roughly six weeks, largely on the strength of contributions ranging between $1,000 and $10,000 each. Comparatively, direct contributions to mayoral campaigns made by individuals are capped at $550 each.

A separate IEC registered as “Essential Workers for Lorena” has yet to report any donations.

The fact that the IEC supporting Harrell has raised significant funds over the last month-and-a-half hasn’t gone unnoticed among other candidates, including leading Democracy Voucher fundraisers Colleen Echohawk and Andrew Grant Houston.

Both Echohawk and Houston have already hit the the $400,000 individual contribution limit for mayoral fundraising in the primaries, and have since levied criticism against the way that IECs are able to operate outside of those limits.

“Seattle passed landmark legislation with the voucher program in 2015 and I think it’s a shame that special interest groups are short circuiting the citizen based voucher program we have in place,” Echohawk told MyNorthwest.

“Our campaign does not need or believe in PACs,” a spokesperson for Houston’s campaign agreed. “By participating in this program, we committed to not taking big corporate money, reached the cap first, and did so with the highest voucher-to-cash ratio of our peers. (Houston) has a $0 net worth in a field of candidates like Mr. Harrell (who is worth millions) who have inherent ties to big money in our city.”

Fields now set for Seattle mayor, council, and city attorney elections

Jessyn Farrell — who’s currently fifth in fundraising among mayoral candidates — expressed a similar sentiment, with spokesperson Will Casey noting that her campaign is “concerned that special interests like those supporting Bruce Harrell continue to sidestep the intent of the Democracy Voucher program by forming this PAC.”

“By having their paperwork filed already, Bruce’s PAC is sending a clear signal that the same business interests he supported during his time as City Council President are lining up to support his bid for mayor,” Casey added. “Voters really need to pay attention to who is funding the advertising they’ll start to see in a few weeks.”

Addressing her own stance on IECs, Gonzalez said in a written statement to MyNorthwest that “corporate-funded PACs are why Seattle has a homelessness and affordable housing crisis.”

“It’s why economic inequality continues to worsen,” she continued. “I’ve spent my legislative career working to eliminate the influence of corporate money and money from foreign-owned corporations in our elections by passing the Clean Campaigns Act. My campaign is funded by working people because that’s who I’m going to be fighting for as Seattle’s next mayor.”

That said, Gonzalez’s campaign also drew a distinction between the “Harrell for Seattle’s Future” committee and the recently-registered “Essential Workers for Lorena” IEC.

“Bruce Harrell has stood with big business executives who have an outsized influence at city hall his entire career,” her campaign manager Alex Koren clarified. “Lorena has always stood with essential workers and labor unions, and she is proud to have their support.”

Harrell also spoke to his own position on independent committees, with his campaign pointing out that it “is not coordinating” with the IEC bearing his name, “and by law cannot coordinate with that committee.”

“Bruce is running a strong grassroots fundraising effort and participating in the public financing Democracy Voucher program,” his campaign said in a written statement. “More than 1400 individuals have given Democracy Vouchers in support of Bruce’s positive vision to unite Seattle and make real progress on the challenges we face.”

Questions, comments, or feedback? Follow Nick Bowman on Twitter at @NickNorthwest to weigh in, or reach him by email at [email protected]

Local News

covid memorial...
MyNorthwest Staff

King County councilmember proposes memorial for lives lost to COVID

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn is proposing the creation of a public art memorial to honor those who lost their lives to COVID-19. 
17 hours ago
shakeout...
Kathryn Altena

Washington to participate in Great ShakeOut earthquake drill for 10th year

At 10:21 a.m. on Oct. 21 will be the annual Great ShakeOut earthquake and tsunami drill in Washington. Practice how you would drop, cover, and hold on.
17 hours ago
King County Metro...
Nick Bowman

King County reports 97% compliance with worker vaccine mandate

King County reported Tuesday that 97% of its employees have submitted paperwork in compliance with its vaccine mandate; 92% are fully vaccinated. 
17 hours ago
superstorm...
MyNorthwest Staff

Heavy rain, wind from tropical ‘superstorm’ headed to Northwest

A cyclone that began as a tropical superstorm is expected to reach waters off the coast of Washington state on Thursday.
17 hours ago
City Hall Park Seattle...
Nick Bowman

King County Council to forge ahead on bid to acquire troubled City Hall Park

King County Councilmembers voted 7-2 on Tuesday to approve legislation to explore options to assume control over Seattle's City Hall Park.
17 hours ago
Bomb squad, Kitsap...
KIRO 7 News Staff

Bomb squad dismantles explosive device in Silverdale

The Washington State Patrol bomb squad has dismantled an explosive device found in a Silverdale parking lot.
17 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
...

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
...
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
...
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
...
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
...
Comcast

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Concerns build over ‘short-circuiting’ of Seattle’s fundraising rules for mayoral campaigns