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Floodgates open, as trio of Seattle mayoral candidates gets spending limit lifted

A Seattle democracy voucher. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

The mayoral campaign fundraising floodgates may very well have opened, with three candidates getting released from the city’s $400,000 spending limit last week.

Seattle mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston was the first to get approval, and was quickly followed by both Colleen Echohawk and Lorena Gonzalez.

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

Typically, mayoral campaigns participating in the city’s Democracy Voucher program are limited to $400,000 of spending in the primary election, and then a combined $800,000 between the primary and general election. Houston had first requested to have that cap lifted last Monday, pointing to the combined spending between opponent Bruce Harrell and an independent expenditure committee (IEC) in his name.

Houston has consistently been among the leaders in fundraising among mayoral campaigns, as the first candidate to reach the $400,000 cap. Ultimately, the SEEC voted unanimously to allow him to spend past that limit.

Operating without any caps or limits of their own, IECs can raise and spend large sums of money in support of whomever they choose, provided that candidates aren’t directly involved or soliciting money on behalf of them.

To date, the combined expenditures between the “Harrell for Seattle’s Future” IEC and Harrell’s actual campaign has already crested the $400,000 mark. And although the Harrell campaign is not coordinating with or directly linked to the IEC, the city still allows opposing campaigns to use that combined sum as a justification for getting their own spending caps lifted.

“I would think at least in this case, every expenditure of this committee should be considered an expenditure to promote Bruce Harrell,” Seattle Ethics and Election Commission Executive Director Wayne Barnett said at a Friday meeting.

Meanwhile, candidates have also expressed concern over the ability of IECs to promote candidates outside the boundaries of the Democracy Voucher program.

“Our campaign does not need or believe in PACs,” a spokesperson for Houston’s campaign told MyNorthwest. “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.”

“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,” fellow mayoral candidate Colleen Echohawk agreed.

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

Last week’s ruling from the SEEC appears to have opened things up for other candidates in the meantime, with Barnett stating that any subsequent requests can move directly through his office.

“Under the law, I can grant the releases,” he noted. “I deferred this to the commission because it was the first release process — I will be able to make the decision based on this precedent going forward.”

That saw both Echohawk and Lorena Gonzalez following Houston and getting the OK to do away with their own spending caps as of last Friday.

Currently, Echohawk is the only other mayoral candidate besides Houston to have raised $400,000, although both Harrell and Gonzalez are fast approaching that number as well.

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