Millions of dollars are pouring into City Council PACs this year.
Millions of dollars are pouring into PACs targeting Seattle races this year. NOMADSOUL1/GETTY IMAGES

We are one week away from the August primary election and campaign spending is in full swing, especially among the no-limits, independent expenditure PACs that are targeting Seattle City Council elections. These groups have far more money than individual candidates and they're throwing their weight around, filling mailboxes with glossy attack mailers and running six-figure TV ads.

Labor is spending big through its PACs in 2019: one union PAC just bought a pro-Andrew Lewis TV ad targeting Seattle City Council District 6 that The Seattle Times called the largest ad purchase by an outside group in Seattle council primary history. A separate national union made a $350,000 cash contribution to its own Seattle-focused PAC on Friday.

Meanwhile, in conservative land: the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has cleared over $1.1 million in donations to their Amazon-funded PAC. A mysterious “Moms for Seattle” PAC just raised over $180,000 in a month, bringing in five-figure donations from local conservative donor heavyweights. And negative mailers abound from former Mayor Tim Burgess’s PAC as he attacks his former colleagues on the city council.

On the whole, independent expenditure committees (which have no donation or spending limits thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision) have spent over $710,000 so far, with plenty of cash left on their balance sheets.

Here’s more on how big-moneyed political players are raising and spending money to make sure their preferred candidates make it through the August 6 primary election, when 55 city council candidates will get winnowed down to 14.

Not even Andrew Lewis understands what Edith Macefield has to do with his campaign.
Not even Andrew Lewis understands what Edith Macefield has to do with his campaign.

Unite Here! Local 8
The largest ad buy in primary history came two weeks ago when a nationwide hotel workers union dropped $150,000 on a Facebook, TV, and newspaper ad campaign in support of District 7 candidate Andrew Lewis. The PAC funded their buy with a donation from the nationwide Unite Here! fund and then contracted Print Logistics, a California firm, to design and produce the ads. The ad, which shows a short clip of Edith Macefield's home in Ballard, was clearly made out-of-state: not even Andrew Lewis knows what the house made famous by the Up! movie has to do with his campaign. Lewis told the Times he was also confused about the ad's price tag—he said he thought his campaign manager meant $15,000, not $150,000, when he heard about the ad buy. (Which, under rules governing PACs, couldn't be coordinated with Lewis's campaign.)

The Unite Here! fund hasn’t so far supported any other council candidates.

SEIU 775
The Service Employees International Union 775 (SEIU) is no stranger to Washington politics and they’re leveraging their nationwide connections to fight in this year’s council races. SEIU’s national fund has contributed $477,376.85 to their local SEIU 775 PAC, including a $350,000 cash contribution last Friday.

The PAC has so far mostly stuck to handing out cash, giving donations directly to City Council candidates (which are maxed out at $500) and giving larger sums to various PACs. They’ve given donations directly to Lisa Herbold (District 1), Tammy Morales (District 2), Zachary DeWolf (District 3), Emily Myers (District 4), Debora Juarez (District 5), the Working People for an Affordable Seattle PAC, Fuse Washington, CAPE, and candidates in a few other races outside of Seattle.

They’ve also spent $12,600 on a digital campaign for Jay Fathi, using Ekrosh Marketing from Oregon and Hopkins + Sachs from Seattle. And they spent $5,000 on a digital campaign for Morales and Herbold.

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce is easily winning the independent expenditure arms race. Their Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE) PAC has raised $1.110 million so far, with $250,000 from Amazon and another $155,000 from Vulcan. And their fundraising is continuing to surge ahead as we close in on next week’s primary, with over $263,449 raised in the last two months including $100,000 in donations on one day on July 26.

CASE isn’t waiting to spend their money. They’ve contracted out $394,774 worth of campaign work, concentrating their spending on unseating incumbent council members Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold. CASE has spent $109,232 supporting Sawant-challenger Egan Orion and $83,950 on supporting Phillip Tavel, who is challenging Herbold. CASE has also spent $78,786 supporting Mark Solomon, who is running against Tammy Morales in South Seattle’s incumbent-free District 2 seat.

CASE is spending money on both direct mailers and canvassing efforts, spending over $210,250 on canvassing California-based Zero Week Solutions and another $93,538 on direct mailers by Moore Campaigns, a DC-based consulting firm.

Billionaire activist Nick Hanauer is bankrolling an independent spending committee this year aiming to push back against CASE, teaming up with the labor non-profit Working Washington and calling their dueling PAC the Civic Alliance for a Progressive Economy (CAPE)—although CAPE is still over a million dollars behind CASE in terms of funding. CAPE has raised $25,000 from Hanuaer, another $10,150 from Civic Ventures, and $10,000 from the UFCW 21’s labor PAC.

CAPE launched a website with ratings for major council candidates this year, but otherwise they haven’t reported much spending.

D1NFSB or “The bowling alley PAC”
It appears that District 1 candidate Phil Tavel has attracted his own PAC, called District 1 Neighbors for Small Business (D1NFSB), to help him take on incumbent Council Member Lisa Herbold. D1NFSB has raised over $12,490 so far, with donations from the Washington Restaurant Association Hospitality PAC, a PAC created by the Nucor Steel plant, and a bowling alley, the West Seattle Bowl. D1NFSDB has so far contracted out over $10,000 in mailers supporting Tavel.

"Moms” For Seattle
One of the biggest surprises of this primary election season has been the emergence of a mysterious conservative-funded “Mom’s For Seattle PAC.” How these moms came together to raise over $183,822 in just a couple of months is a question they’re not willing to answer; the Moms and their mostly-male representatives have essentially shunned questions from reporters (although their Facebook page is active in a very Safe Seattle-esque way). So my colleague Nathalie Graham decided to knock on their doorbells. You can read her story over here. Also, my colleague Rich Smith looked into one of the Mom’s contractors and found some ties to a local political consulting firm.

Moms For Seattle is supporting many of the same candidates as the Amazon-approved CASE PAC, with the addition of Pat Murakami in District 3. Their donations come entirely from individuals, although not all of their donors are Seattle moms. Their top donor is Katherine Binder, a Bellevue-based “mom” who gave $25,000 to the Mom's PAC. Binder gave $250,000 to a charter school initiative in 2012. Their second largest donor is John Meisenbach, a wealthy insurance magnate who is a prolific political donor, giving $233,700 to federal election campaigns in the last 40 years, according to federal records. Many of the donations were to conservative causes, including $10,000 to the Washington State Republican Party, $10,000 to Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert’s victory committee, and $25,000 to Republican Senator Ted Cruz’s PAC.

The "Moms" have started a mailer campaign aimed at fearmongering over our city's homelessness emergency, although they don't appear to be able to drum up fear without the help of Photoshop:

Tim Burgess capped off ten years on the City Council with a stint as a fill-in mayor in 2018, but he isn’t through with city politics. He’s taking on his former colleagues, including Lisa Herbold and Kshama Sawant, with a negative-mailer filled campaign, funded through his People for Seattle PAC (POS). POS has raised $286,295 and spent $164,541 so far.

Tim Burgess is on the attack.
Tim Burgess is on the attack. Rich Smith

POS paid for $40,000 in polling research conducted by EMC research, an Ohio company, and bought $100,000 worth of mailers from Daylight Communications, a Massachusetts company. The PAC also received in-kind donations from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s advisor Sandeep Kaushik, as well as local consultants, Tim Ceis and Ryan Bayne of CBE Strategic.