When Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold filed two peculiar campaign expenditures last month, it piqued my interest.
Herbold's campaign paid Kate Brunette Consulting $400 on April 16 for "house party resource development." Then, on April 28, there was a $100 payment for "training on house party coordination."
Does Herbold need lessons in how to throw a party?
Was there a dress rehearsal? Pointers on small talk and a step-by-step on how to pour a beer without too much foam? Was there a montage-from-a-rom-com-style expedition through Herbold's West Seattle district in search of the perfect outfit?
More importantly, what the fuck are all these local candidates spending their money on?
Especially when a big chunk of that money is coming from taxpayers in the form of Democracy Vouchers.
To answer that question, I took a dive into the disclosures of Seattle's many city council hopefuls and found a lot. Honestly, too much.
But my journey deep into the campaign finance trenches did reveal some interesting things about the people salivating for a chance to help control the roughly $6 billion that funds this city's budget.
While in charge of their own campaign budgets, all the major candidates for city council are spending cash on things you'd expect (flyers, mailers, pens, consultants) and on a number of other things that appear to offer a window into their cravings, vanities, insecurities, and true political convictions.
At the same time, the actual financial disclosure forms the candidates are turning in offer an indication of who among them is truly committed to transparency. There are some super transparent people running for city council this year—like, "I ordered extra bread for $1.54" transparent—and then there are the candidates who file a lot of campaign expenses under vague line items like "CREDIT CARD FEES Operation and Overhead."
Oh, and there's also the person who rails against Amazon while purchasing printer toner on Amazon. More on her later.
Money Mysteries, Solved and Unsolved
Let's start by solving the mystery of Herbold's training on how to throw a house party. It's actually less juicy than it seems, the council member explained, saying that her consultant had put together a field guide for how to host Democracy Voucher parties. The toolkit had stuff like sample invitations and sign-up sheets, and Herbold paid $500 for this education.
Fine. On to the next mystery: Does Brendan Kolding only own one suit?
Kolding, the West Seattleite and Seattle Police Department lieutenant, has raised a total of $52,732.08. He hasn't spent much of it yet, but he has been sure to declare two expenditures for "dry cleaning for suit used at campaign events."
Kolding said it's a black Geoffrey Beene suit and that he wears it to events that "seem to merit a suit." It's not his only suit, but the only one he wears for campaign events. How often he dry cleans it and incurs the $15.40 fee varies "depending on frequency of use," Kolding said. He declined to include a picture of himself in the suit for the article but thanked me for asking.
Then there are the unsolved mysteries, like: What did Ann Davison Sattler (D5) put on the $30.79 custom hat she had made at the Seattle Team Shop? And why did Phillip Tavel (D1) return a $348 Ikea purchase? I will update this post if these candidates ever respond to my requests for comment.
How They Ride, Park, and Reimburse Their Saab Miles
Crystal clear from the expense reports: how certain candidates get around Seattle.
Kolding (D1); Daniela Lipscomb Eng (D7), a small business owner in Magnolia; and Sasha Anderson (D4), a peer educator, have all reported paying fees for parking a car while on campaign business. (Kolding has spent $44.26 on parking, Lipscomb Eng $14.36, and Anderson $72.50).
Meanwhile, Pat Murakami (D3), a self-described "neighborhood activist," has billed her campaign an eyebrow-raising amount for "campaign use of personal vehicle."
The latest of five entries includes Murakami's mileage rate: "320 miles @.58 per mile $185." Fifty eight cents per mile is the federal mileage reimbursement rate. Nothing unusual there. But check out the distance Murakami says she's traveled for just this one reimbursement: 320 miles.
District 3 is roughly 5 miles long.
Murakami could have driven to Spokane on this one expenditure and still had some miles left over to log. And there's more than just this one mileage reimbursement expense declared by Murakami. She reports that to date she's been paid a total $721.50 out of her own campaign funds for driving her Saab around District 3. That's almost eight percent of her total campaign expenditures so far, and if she's charging her campaign the federal milage reimbursement rate for all her miles (which she says she is) then Murakami's so far driven a grand total of 1,244 miles for her District 3 campaign. Murakami could have nearly made it to Tijuana on those miles. Where the fuck is she actually driving? (Also, if you are looking for the car lover in this race, look no further.)
"It is a lot of miles," Murakami admitted when asked. "That’s part of why I use a car. I'm trying to meet as many people as possible while still running my small business."
In stark contrast, Shaun Scott, the Democratic Socialist candidate in District 4, is using Lyft when he has to hop around for campaign events. He's made 63 Lyft rides in the six or so months since he launched his campaign, costing a total of $793.17.
Scott said that hectic campaign days create a lot of "zipping back and forth and having a certain degree of mobility." Every time his campaign uses Lyft, however, Scott said they're using "green mode," which only assigns riders to hybrids or electric vehicles. That lets Scott and his campaign "live out our values as a campaign by not actually contributing to the number of emissions pumped out into the air," Scott said.
Scott added that on less busy days his campaign will use transit. However, he has not expensed any transit trips.
The only candidate who has filed an expenditure for an Orca card is Kate Martin (D6). She loaded it up with $60.50. But that's only for north-south trips on light rail. "Like everybody else in Seattle, if you’re trying to go east-west you’re often out of luck," Martin said. She usually won't take Metro in those cases, instead preferring Uber.
Her Uber rides have cost her $308 but are worth it, she said, because she doesn't like parking and walking by herself to her destination. "I’m more cautious and I also can’t defend myself pretty well," Martin, who is 61-years-old, said.
What They Eat
In addition to having the most progressive explanation for his rideshare expenses, Scott (D4) has by far the most detailed expenditure reports overall. "Candidates govern as they campaign," Scott explained.
The biggest and most valuable campaign expense, in Scott's opinion, is getting his staff paid. Currently, he has about eight staffers: two are salaried, while the other four are working for $16 an hour. Scott's campaign has spent 40 percent of its $26,395 in expenditures on staff wages.
"A lot of candidates talk about fiscal responsibility in this race," Scott said, "and I think it’s an important statement for us to actually model that through having detailed filings."
Part of that detail is listing out almost every place Scott has stopped for food on the campaign trail.
In his filings, this shows up as, for example, a "hot dog expense" from Hot Dog in the Park or a "bread expense" from Grateful Bread in Wedgwood. Those are Scott's quick fixes, along with some Pagliacci "pizza by the slice" that his filings say cost him $8.
It was probably a cheese or pepperoni pizza, Scott said. "The public really needs to know that it was not Hawaiian," Scott added. "I'm trying to win the election on a no Hawaiian pizza platform."
A lot of Scott's meal expenditures average about $21.25, which could get a guy a lot of pizza and hot dogs, but Scott said those larger meal expenses were food for staff and volunteers. These relatively larger food expenses occur at restaurants in District 4 like Cafe on the Ave or Siam on Eastlake (Scott's order is typically pad thai, he said). It's important to be "showing our gratitude to our volunteer cohort the best way we can," Scott explained, "and sometimes that's as small as $30 so someone can get something to eat."
Spending $30 for things like pizza, hot dogs, and Thai food may not seem extravagant to a lot people—and hey, it's definitely not extravagant compared to King County Assessor John Wilson's tastes. Wilson, who is running unopposed in his re-election effort, spent $78.26 on a meeting meal at Wild Ginger and $63.17 on a meeting at iHop. No bills like that in the files of the Democratic Socialist in D4!
More similar to Scott in the food spending department is Martin (D6), who's also been pretty meticulous in her reporting. Martin's favorite spot is Mr. Gyros in Ballard. She's been there five times during her campaign. One time, she just spent $1.54 for extra pita bread. Her favorite dish is the baba ganoush.
Would They Like 2-Day Delivery With That?
Back to that potentially hypocritical purchase of toner on Amazon: the campaign that disclosed the purchase is (gasp) District 3's council member, Kshama Sawant.
This toner was used to help with some in-house printing, Sawant's campaign confirmed, but other campaign literature is printed in bulk by printing houses. However, Sawant's campaign did not directly address the ideological implications of its patronage of Amazon.
And this is not the only printer-related intrigue!
Over in District 7—downtown, Magnolia, and Interbay—Isabelle Kerner has expensed two accidental orders from Amazon. "I have no idea why, but Amazon kept sending me air filters that were the wrong size," Kerner wrote in a text to me. "I had canceled the subscription in 2018 but I kept getting them." She also bought three packs of Legos for $92.54 (she clarified that she returned two packs later on) for a "prototype of [my] cargo container housing solution."
Supporting Local Media and Personal Glamour Shots
With Facebook and Google saying they won't sell local political ads in Washington state, most candidates are having to pivot to other advertising methods.
That means doubling down on "the traditional mailers," Lombard told The Stranger. So far, he's only spent $240 on printing advertising materials. Leading the pack with printing is Kshama Sawant, who has racked up a bill of $4,406.76 at Abracadabra Printing. (Not counting that Amazon toner expense.)
Alex Pedersen, the North Seattle "community leader," has doled out $3,016.86 for printing at Overnight Printing, FedEx, Office Depot, and Zebra Printing.
Pedersen, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, also bought ads on some local news sites. That includes an ad in the quarterly print product of the Eastlake Times ($63), an ad on Wallyhood ($10), and a campaign insert in the Seattle Times ($2,550). Ari Hoffman, the D2 bouncy house tycoon, declined to comment for this story but records show he's bought print ads, too. He purchased a Seattle Chinese Post ad ($289) and a Northwest Asian Weekly Ad ($353), plus translation fees for both of them ($100 each).
Photography can also get really pricey for candidates. Across the board, it ranges from the $66.04 JC Penny portrait session Lombard (D5) got because he was near Northgate and didn't have any nice pictures of himself to the $1,850.56 that Terry Rice (D6) spent on his campaign photos.
Out of Rice's total campaign expenditures, a full 15 percent is for these glamour shots—which do look rather nice, but not nicer than any photo an amateur could take on an iPhone X, a phone that retails at $1,150.
Rice explained that he "elected to go with a professional photographer with past campaign experience," and added that he doesn't "spend money on lawn signs."
Pride, Germs, Security, and Subscriptions
Then there are the purchases that just can't fit into one category. For example, Christopher Peguero (D2) purchased a spot in the Seattle Pride Parade for $1,539.10. He then invited all the other LGBT candidates—there are five—to join in. "As a queer person of color and as a candidate," Peguero said. "I thought that it was incredibly important for us to show up." Everyone agreed to except Zachary DeWolf (D3), the Seattle School Board member, who has not yet confirmed.
Kerner (D7) bought hand sanitizer and pens ($15.60) and said the sanitizer was "for the SOS (Speak Out Seattle) forum." She did not elaborate further. The type of pens she bought, however, "were chalk pens so people could write on [my] table."
Hoffman (D2) has spent $580 on private security. He's also hired Dragon Dancers for event entertainment for $300.
And Martin (D6) put a subscription to the Economist on her expense report ($60.56) because she "ran out of free articles."
More to Come
The campaign season is just getting started and many candidates haven't spent much of anything yet. The next expenditure reports have to be filed next week, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, and you bet I'll be watching.
I need to know the next time Martin needs extra bread or if Scott gets thirsty enough for two beverages on the campaign trail. Also, where the fuck is Murakami going in her car??? I hope she makes it to Panama by the primaries.