It’s no secret that some of Seattle’s biggest businesses are attempting to tilt this year's Seattle City Council races. These companies are still pissed about last year's attempted "Head Tax" and seem to feel emboldened after successfully getting the council to ditch the tax, which would have funded homelessness services but was so hated by Amazon that the company halted local construction in protest.
To make sure the next council is more to Amazon's liking, the company has so far put $200,000 into a political action committee run by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, making Amazon the single largest financial backer of the PAC, which now boasts a total of more than $700,000 in its war chest.
This PAC goes by the name Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE) and under city rules it'll be allowed to spend unlimited amounts to influence this fall's elections, though it can't coordinate its efforts with any individual campaign.
Mysteriously, CASE has yet to indicate which candidates it intends to push for the seven council seats that are up for grabs this year. So we decided to ask a different question: Which of the 56 Seattle City Council candidates actually want CASE to use its money to help them win?
We reached out to all 56 people who met last week’s filing deadline and very quickly found 14 candidates who couldn’t wait to call us and say how badly they long for help from that sweet, sweet corporate cash.
You want names, right? Well, we got 'em—along with a whole lot of feelings, thoughts, gripes, and swipes.
First, here's our list of the people who hope CASE will throw money around on their campaign's behalf:
Ari Hoffman (D2), Phillip Tavel (D1), Brendan Kolding (D1), Joshua Newman (D4), Ann Davison Sattler (D5), Jon Lisbin (D6), Sergio Garcia (D6), Bobby Miller (D6), Heidi Wills (D6), Isabelle J. Kerner (D7), Jim Pugel (D7), Andrew J. Lewis (D7), Gene Burrus (D7) , Michael George (D7), and Naveed Jamali (D7).
We also found 16 candidates who sound like they can't wait to give Amazon and other big-pocketed businesses the middle finger.
Lisa Herbold (D1), Tammy Morales (D2), Chris Peguero (D2), Omari Tahir-Garrett (D2), Logan Bowers (D3), Zachary DeWolf (D3), Kshama Sawant (D3), Ami Nguyen (D3), Cathy Tuttle (D4), Emily Myers (D4), Ethan Hunter (D4), Shaun Scott (D4), John Lombard (D5), Terry Rice (D6), Joey Massa (D6), Melissa Hall (D6), and Ed Pottharst (D6).
And then there’s a third category: politicians who are so busy producing empty words they can’t give us a clear yes or no. These people said they weren’t necessarily looking for CASE’s support, but they also said they wouldn’t turn it down if the help were offered. Time will tell, but it could be the indecisiveness of this group is all about them trying to avoid the optics of wanting help from a trillion-dollar corporation that just held the city ransom over a modest tax to fund homelessness solutions.
This group includes: Phyllis Porter (D2), Pat Murakami (D3), and Egan Orion.
In addition, there are 22 candidates who simply wouldn't respond to our questions—looking at you, Councilmember Debora Juarez (D5). We'll update our findings if and when we hear from them.
Here's more on what we learned, district by district.
DISTRICT 1 — West Seattle
Councilmember Lisa Herbold may have more experience than anyone when it comes to dealing with an onslaught of Chamber of Commerce cash. When she ran for reelection in 2015, CASE spent over $121,000 against her and for her opponent. Given this history, Herbold said she would reject CASE spending to support her candidacy, although she did fill out CASE’s endorsement questionnaire as “an opportunity for productive engagement.”
Herbold’s two opponents are in the opposite camp.
Phil Tavel, a local attorney who lost when he ran against Herbold in 2015, said that when it comes to CASE funding he “welcomes their support.” Brendan Kolding, a police officer, said he is seeking the Chamber's support because “CASE has a sincere interest in elevating Seattle out of our current state of crisis.”
DISTRICT 2 — SOUTH SEATTLE
Voters in South Seattle will have a clear choice when it comes to picking friends and foes of the Amazon-financed PAC.
On one side is Ari Hoffman, a bouncy house tycoon and activist who swiftly called in to say he wants that corporate money on his side.
“Absolutely," Hoffman told us. "I’m curious why anyone would not want the voice of the business community involved, especially when the business community employs so many people in town.”
Then there are the candidates who clearly feel uncomfortable with trillion-dollar corporations like Amazon aiming to flip the balance on the council.
Omari Tahir-Garret, a Central District activist, said he would reject CASE’s help because “civic alliance is nothing but the downtown business community backing their police candidate, it’s straight up fascism.”
Chris Peguero, a city of Seattle employee, said he is not seeking Chamber help because groups like CASE and Safe Seattle “oversimplify the challenges and reject the urgency around funding for more housing and funding for more services.”
Tammy Morales, a South Seattle activist who came within 424 votes of beating Councilmember Bruce Harrell in 2015, said she is “not seeking the CASE endorsement” and “did not fill out their questionnaire.”
Two candidates in D2, Mark Solomon and Henry Dennison, did not respond to our questions.
And bike activist Phyllis Porter declined to take part in this survey after she sent us an indecisive response and we pushed her for a yes or a no answer. “Due to your questionnaire being a yes or no only, I will decline to take part,” Porter said in an e-mail.
DISTRICT 3 — Capitol Hill, Central District, Montlake, Madison Valley
Many D3 candidates were quick to reject any CASE assistance.
Maybe that’s because Kshama Sawant, who currently represents the district, spearheaded the Head Tax and is known for her tendency, and willingness, to spit in big business's face.
Staying true to form, Sawant described CASE as “the political arm of the Chamber of Commerce” and said she “would absolutely reject any money from CASE” since their goal in the D3 race is clear: “Anybody But Kshama Sawant.”
Two of her stiffest competitors are taking a similar slant.
“I want help from my neighbors through the Democracy Voucher program, which almost all of us are participating in except the incumbent,” said Zachary DeWolf, a current Seattle School Board member.
After a request for clarification on whether that means he would definitely reject CASE help, DeWolf wrote wearily: “We’re literally on hour three — almost four — at the 37th endorsements meeting. I am not seeking CASEs support.”
He also listed some numbers: 39 percent of his contributions are from inside District 3 and 83 percent come from within Seattle. Sawant’s funding isn’t the same, he pointed out in his one-paragraph response. “Follow the money, Kshama is representing someone, but it isn’t us," Bowers said.
(Data compiled by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission shows that while 20 percent of Sawant's money comes from within her district, 46 percent comes from outside of Seattle.)
Meanwhile, Ami Nguyen, a King County public defender, clearly and categorically stated that she is not seeking help from CASE and will reject any assistance.
Pat Murakami, a Mount Baker business owner, is on the other side of the ledger. She said she believes in “working cooperatively with Seattle-based businesses” and that she has “no control over what spending CASE may or may not do.”
Egan Orion, the suspected Chamber candidate in D3, did not respond to our request for comment. UPDATE: Orion has provided this statement The Stranger: "My campaign is not accepting any donations from corporations. We are not seeking nor will we accept an endorsement from CASE. If they spend time and money to defeat Sawant, I have no issue with them doing that. I'm doing that every day of my campaign. I will gladly accept money from all workers, including those from the tech sector. I'm running a campaign to give the people of District 3 back their voice at city council, and that means all of my District 3 neighbors."
DISTRICT 4 — University District
This North Seattle district had a variety of responses.
Two small potatoes candidates are vying for CASE support: Sasha Anderson, a senior program coordinator for Mentor U who has raised around $25,000, and Joshua Newman, a transit advocate and Boeing engineer who has raised almost $6,000.
Anderson said CASE “could help me move forward in an overly crowded primary.”
Newman said he “will happily accept support from CASE” and that it is “absurd and foolish to expect them to remain silent about the future of our city.” He also pointed out that “the Seattle Chamber of Commerce is not some Neo-Nazi, Klan, or otherwise unforgivable organization.”
Cathy Tuttle, an urbanist, veteran of the Seattle Parks Department, and the wealthiest candidate in any district race, said she does “not want help from CASE.” However, she said that as a participant in the Democracy Voucher program “anyone or any group can contribute up to $250” to her campaign and that she would “happily take $250 from CASE but not independent expenditures.”
Shaun Scott, the sole socialist candidate in the D4 race, is staunchly opposed to CASE funding because “corporate influence has a corrosive impact on democracy.” He would “not accept” and “disavow” any help from the PAC.
Emily Myers, the University of Washington Ph.D. candidate and who looks like Scott’s biggest competition, said her campaign “is neither asking for the CASE endorsement nor is my campaign accepting ANY corporate contributions.”
Declining to comment: Beth Mountsier, a transportation project manager; Heidi Stuber, strategic director for Sea to Sky Rentals; and Alex Pedersen, a self-described Northeast Seattle community leader.
DISTRICT 5 — North Seattle
The furthest district north is one of the few with an incumbent running. Debora Juarez, that incumbent, wouldn't say whether she wants help from CASE.
Neither would Juarez challengers Mark Mendez, Taylor Mahoney, and Alex Tsimerman (the perennially offensive, inappropriate, and ineffective pain in the ass who's a staple at city council hearings).
John Lombard, a neighborhood activist, said he was “not accepting corporate PAC money, including CASE” and “would reject” any corporate expenditures.
Ann Davison Sattler, a local mother and activist, at first said she wanted “to approach our city's tough problems in a way current leadership won't. If CASE agrees with my approach that’s fine."
She then clarified that was a “yes” to wanting CASE money and a “no” to rejecting it if and when CASE makes a decision to spend on her behalf. “I want action for our tough problems, period,” Sattler said.
DISTRICT 6 — Ballard and Fremont
Sergio Garcia, an SPD cop known for his mustache, said his grassroots campaign “is running to bring people together in order to start addressing issues like public safety, housing and homelessness,” and if CASE wants that kind of candidate “we welcome the support.”
Jon Lisbin, a business entrepreneur, said that “in a 14-way race, I don’t think any candidate can afford not to accept support.”
Similarly, Bobby Miller, who has raised zero dollars, “would definitely appreciate support from CASE” since “CASE is aligned perfectly with my vision and values”—and that he has “no issue with CASE spending on [his] behalf.”
Then he added, perplexingly, “I'd be grateful at the least for your help.” Is that directed at us? Does he want our help getting CASE’s support?
Heidi Wills, a former Seattle City Councilwoman, responded late to this question. However, she said that "As a small business owner myself, I have asked the Chamber for an endorsement of my campaign."
Melissa Hall, a local attorney, sent us contradictory statements through two different campaign consultants but then ultimately clarified that she would not accept CASE's help.
Joey Massa, a Washington Army National Guard veteran, also wouldn’t outright reject CASE’s help.
Kara Ceriello, former Wallingford Chamber of Commerce director, wrote that she is “not looking for help from CASE, but I think they should talk with me for a different perspective. If they, and I, can be in agreement, it’d be fine if they wish to mention me. But I think I don’t want any big bribes, I mean donations, from anyone. ;-)”
Declining to answer: Dan Strauss, a former legislative aide; Kate Martin, a mother who has “been around the block” according to her website; Jeremy Cook, a graphic designer; John Peeples, an engineer; and Jay Fathi, a family physician.
DISTRICT 7 — Downtown, Interbay, and Magnolia
It’s hardly surprising that the council district that includes multi-million dollar condos in downtown, glassy Amazon towers in South Lake Union, and mega-mansions in Magnolia and Queen Anne is friendly to big, corporate interests.
Ten candidates are running to replace Sally Bagshaw in this wealthy district and the six candidates that responded to us all said yes to help from CASE.
Each had their own reasons.
Andrew Lewis, a lawyer in the City Attorney’s office, said he is seeking the chamber’s support because he thinks it “is important to meet with all the stakeholders in my district, including business, and be an open and accessible representative.”
Gene Burrus, a former corporate attorney at Microsoft, said he wants CASE’s help because the current City Council has “failed at their jobs in part because they have treated the business community as enemies and adversaries.”
Burrus added that the chamber’s “concerns on issues like crime, homelessness and addiction are the same as those shared by my neighbors, and we all share a common interest in solving those problems.”
Naveed Jamali, a former spy and frequent guest on nationwide 24-hour news programs, said he is “both eager and willing to work with [CASE] to help shape a better and more inclusive Seattle.” Jamali added that “a candidate who chooses to ignore the business community or cannot rally their support, has no business representing the 7th district.”
Jim Pugel, former police chief at SPD, said he would welcome CASE's help because local politics has “too much polarization, too much us versus them.”
Isabelle Kerner, a 23-year-old Queen Anne resident, said she would be fine with the corporate cash if it was aiding her campaign. “Since this district is very business oriented and I do need the businesses' help to address the housing crisis… I really will accept help from CASE," Kerner said. "Although I’m pretty sure they have already accepted their candidate, Michael George."
And Michael George, a development consultant in local real estate, confirmed that he will definitely take CASE’s support if it’s offered.
CORRECTION, May 22: We originally listed District 6 candidate Melissa Hall as a "maybe" because we received two conflicting responses from her campaign consultants. One told us "She is interested in help from CASE...However, not interested in any help, financial or otherwise, that comes with strings attached." Since we are under the impression that it is illegal for donors of any type to buy a politician's vote or put strings on donations, that sounded like a maybe. A second campaign consultant emailed a contradictory response, saying Hall wasn't likely to get the donations but would publicly reject CASE independent expenditures that aim to get Hall elected. Hall's team seem confused and contradictory, so we put her in the maybe camp. But later Hall's campaign consultants took to Twitter to say that she would not accept CASE help, so we've now updated this story to reflect that.
Additionally, an earlier version of this post misstated that Logan Bowers received 9 percent of his campaign contribution from D3. It is actually 39 percent.
May 29: This post has been updated to include Heidi Wills' responses.