I don't know what you were doing Friday afternoon, but it was probably not as exciting as what I was doing: refreshing the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission website to see what sorts of new outside cash was flowing into the city council races as ballots were hitting mailboxes.
The answer is a lot.
The pro-business Chamber of Commerce's political arm, the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, dropped $44,000 each into two district council races for candidates it has endorsed: Shannon Braddock in West Seattle's District 1 and Rob Johnson in Northeast Seattle's District 4.
The anti-$15 Washington Restaurant Association's political action committee also reported spending $20,000 on Johnson.
And in North Seattle's District 5, the Northwest Tribal PAC reported spending $15,000 to support candidate Debora Juarez.
Those figures are on top of the $48,000 the National Association of Realtors dropped in the North Seattle District 5 race last week. (UPDATE: That group's spending is now at almost $65,000.)
That's a grand total of about $188,000 in so-called independent expenditures in Seattle City Council races so far this cycle. (Independent expenditures are funded by outside groups and must be organized and spent entirely separately from the campaigns. While there's a $700 contribution limit for gifts to candidates' campaigns, there are no limits on how much political groups can spend in independent expenditures.) I posted last week about how, despite promises that it would help get big money out of elections, districting doesn't actually appear to be making city council elections much cheaper—and that was just focusing on the regular campaign cash. Add in these outside money drops and, as Erica C. Barnett first wrote about on Friday, it appears even more certain that winning these races won't be cheap.
The money started paying off for the chosen candidates over the weekend as TV ads for Braddock reportedly showed up on FX . (Are you in District 4 or 5? Did you see anything? Let me know in the comments.)
And the double-edged sword of getting big-money assistance is playing out, too. In an e-mail to supporters this morning, Lisa Herbold, Braddock's main competitor in West Seattle, trashed the Chamber's spending on Braddock:
Make no mistake, this PAC does not represent West Seattle, nor does it represent “people.” While a person did ultimately make the decision to spend $44,000 in media advertising for Ms. Braddock immediately before the election, they did so from the deep accounts of wealthy corporations, which have no unique interest in District One’s neighborhoods.
That Ms. Braddock shares a political consulting group, Blue Wave Consulting, with this PAC calls into question just how truly independent this expenditure is. More disclosure would be welcome to assure the public that no collaboration has taken place, particularly given Washington’s election laws prohibiting independent expenditure collusion.
In the e-mail, Herbold also linked to my post from last week, in which Braddock told me she believes both she and Herbold are both good progressives.
I have enormous respect for the work she has done for this city and in West Seattle. I also respect that Ms. Braddock supported districted elections from the start, as this new model has substantially increased civic participation in our city’s elections.
However, the $44,000 contribution by big businesses to sway communities against progressive legislation such as paid sick and safe days for Seattle workers, hidden behind a PAC’s cloak, is not in the same representative spirit, nor is it democratic.
The deadline to turn in your ballot—which you've probably received by now—is August 4.