The same rich people who bankrolled Mayor Bruce Harrell’s campaign–and the campaigns of the two pro-business Mayors before him–have poured tens of thousands of dollars into the 2023 City Council races via independent expenditure committees (IEs).
So far, the usual conservative suspects have rallied around tech lawyer Rob Saka and world’s worst boss Maritza Rivera, who aim to represent District 1 and District 4, respectively. The early infusion of big money could allow business and real estate interests to bury their progressive opponents under negative mailers and buy them the anti-tax, pro-cop council of their dreams.
Local campaign finance laws limit individual contributions to city council candidates at $300 for those participating in the Democracy Voucher program and at $600 for those who aren’t. But IEs give big spenders a loophole, allowing them to donate as much as they want to a separate pot so long as the IE does not coordinate with the candidate they support.
Rivera’s IE, University Neighbors Committee, filed on June 6. As of July 27, it has raised more than $81,000 from just 18 donors. Despite the charming name, only three of those donors reported D4 addresses, though some list their office address. You know, the place where their real interests lie.
Saka’s IE, Elliott Bay Neighbors, filed the same day as University Neighbors Committee and has raised more than $78,000 from the exact same 18 donors who contributed to Rivera’s campaign. Two of those donors reported D1 addresses, one in Gatewood and one in Pioneer Square, a new addition to the district.
Out of their 18 donors, 15 also donated to Harrell’s IE or direct to his campaign when he ran for mayor in 2021, despite Saka denying that he’s the Mayor’s protege.
Most notably, Harrell, Rivera, and Saka all received money from the two most infamous conservative donors in Seattle: John Goodman and George Petrie.
John Goodman is a wealthy real estate mogul and mega landlord who owns up to 40,000 apartments and 2.5 million square feet of office space across the country, according to the Goodman Real Estate website.
Goodman has what you might call “Fuck You” money. So he can afford a garage full of luxury racing cars, a yacht marina, a better-fitting suit, and at least a couple council members who will help him continue leeching off of the working class.
Goodman’s right-hand man, George Petrie, the CEO of Goodman Real Estate, regularly donates to Trump, National Republican PACs, and local Republican campaigns such as Tiffany Smiley for Governor, Reagan Dunn for County Council, and to Harrell, who probably would be a Republican if it weren’t a dirty word.
The IEs supporting Rivera and Saka also got support from billionaire Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal, HomeStreet Bank CEO Mason Mark, Windermere Real Estate CEO Geoff Wood, big-time corporate investor Joshua Green, and Jordan Selig, the heir to MAGA billionaire developer Martin Selig. These deep-pocketed, political scale-tippers also pumped money into Harrell’s 2021 IE, which spent almost $500,000 in support of Harrell and more than $600,000 against his progressive opponent, Lorena González.
Rivera’s progressive opponent, Ron Davis said its “disappointing” that Rivera would “turn to this kind of dark money to catch up” as the lowest-fundraising candidate in the district.
“Bad actors from outside our neighborhood who do not share our values should not be meddling in our communities,” Davis wrote in an email to The Stranger.
Progressives benefit from IEs, too, though, but not as much right now.
Fuse Washington launched an IE July 11 called Fuse Votes. So far, 15 donors, mostly from outside of Seattle, have raised about $9,000. None of the donors have ever donated to Trump, and they have a history of supporting Democrat PACs. Fuse Votes has split its funds equally to support 11 moderate and progressive campaigns, many of which are in competition with each other, making their measly contribution even less powerful.
SEIU 775 Quality Care Committee, a union IE, has raised $8,000 to support Nilu Jenks, a self-described middle-ground candidate running in District 5.
The more progressive IEs may be waiting to throw their weight behind candidates after the primary. Rivera, however, needs the help right now. It would seem the establishment would prefer her to make it out of the primary rather than the other conservative candidate, Ken Wilson. Wilson has raised almost $17,000 more than Rivera, and Davis has raised $32,000 more than her.
Saka is a clear frontrunner for the conservatives in his district, but with three other pro-business candidates in the race, the potential for vote-splitting is strong. A boost can’t hurt!
Regardless, if the progressive IEs are not ready to match conservative spending soon, then conservatives may have an even easier time gaining a majority on council.