People are not happy about Jeff Bezos trying to buy Seattle's election. Outrage spread from West Seattle to New York City after Amazon donated an unprecedented $1.5 million to the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce's local super PAC. So, naturally, with ballots already at people's homes, the chamber's president and CEO, Marilyn Strickland, decided to do some very public spinning of the facts.
Strickland went on KUOW last week and told listeners that despite what Elizabeth Warren said, Amazon’s donation really isn’t that big. Unions are spending just as much money as the chamber in Seattle's elections, Strickland claimed.
“If you look at where the money is coming from, from all of the political action committees, there are about 20 different PACs contributing, and it’s about evenly split between the number of PACs and the amount of money raised by both business and labor,” Strickland said.
Strickland’s message sounds pretty convincing, but there is just one problem: It’s complete bullshit.
The chamber’s Amazon-approved candidates have received $2.7 million in super PAC support while the opposing candidates have received only $660,411 in independent super PAC support, most of it funded by unions. That means the Amazon-approved candidates are getting four times more super PAC help than their opponents.
(I left Council Member Debora Juarez out of these figures because she's supported by both the chamber and labor. Super PACs have spent $59,675 trying to elect Juarez this year).
Strickland did not return a request for comment for this story.
In One Seattle Council District, One Candidate Is Receiving 465 Times More PAC Money Than the Other
The difference between the chamber and non-chamber candidates is particularly clear in District 3 (Capitol Hill, Central District, and Madison Valley), where $394,329 has been spent by individuals giving to the campaign of Amazon-approved Egan Orion and $452,941 has been spent by individuals supporting socialist council member Kshama Sawant. Those individual contributions are capped by law at $500 per person. But when it comes support for these two candidates from PACs—which, thanks to the legacy of Citizens United, are allowed receive unlimited contributions—the disparity gets very stark.
Egan Orion has benefited from $617,074 in total help from four different super PACs, while Kshama Sawant has received only $1,326 in total help from two super PACs.
That means PAC support for Orion is 465 times higher than PAC support for Sawant.
It also means that overall, the chamber candidate in District 3 is benefitting from $1.011 million in total individual and PAC support, more than twice the amount of total individual and PAC support for Sawant ($454,378).
But you wouldn’t know that listening to Strickland. She told KUOW that “the fact that Amazon dropped this money actually puts us on par with the labor money.”
Strickland went on to claim that Sawant was opposed to the city’s new Democracy Voucher program, which gives candidates the ability to publicly finance their elections.
“Kshama Sawant was the very first candidate to denounce and say she was not going to use Democracy Vouchers, so as we talk about what’s true and what’s false, I want to make sure people understand the entire picture,” Strickland said.
This is not true.
Sawant didn’t denounce the Democracy Voucher program, she said she wanted to take the public money but she couldn’t because she expected Strickland and the chamber to massively outspend her with super PAC money. And… look what happened. Sawant was entirely correct. If Strickland really believed what she was saying on KUOW, then it looks like the socialist might have better strategic business sense, and have a better grasp on math, than one of Seattle’s wealthy business leaders.
In Other Districts, the Lopsided PAC Spending Continues
The lopsided super PAC expenditures are also readily apparent in District 6, where Heidi Wills has received an incredible $752,326 in super PAC support. When combined with her individual contributions, more than $1 million is being spent to elect the Amazon-approved Wills.
Wills’s opponent, Dan Strauss, has received only $72,755 in duper PAC support.
This means Wills is getting 10 times more in super PAC support than her opponent.
District 7’s race between Jim Pugel and Andrew Lewis is the only race that isn’t entirely lopsided. Amazon-approved Pugel has more super PAC help than Lewis, but not by much. More than $548,000 in super PAC money has been spent on Pugel, largely by the chamber, while Lewis has received more than $501,000 in super PAC support, all of it from labor groups.
Again, Strickland did not reply to a request for comment, but it’s not hard to see why Strickland is going out on a disinformation campaign—Amazon’s $1.5 million donation has not been well received. It already appears to be moving voters to progressive candidates that they previously didn’t support.
Meanwhile, other local conservative groups, like the “Moms for Seattle” super PAC, are repeating Strickland’s false statements.
Moms for Seattle taking full advantage of Facebook's policy allowing untruthful ads.
If you add up total spent on Amazon's slate (I marked w/ red) vs non-Amazon slate (blue), even Moms' skillfully organized chart shows one side ($2.3M) eclipsing the other ($1.1M) by over double: pic.twitter.com/tZ5e7ymkN3
— Zach Wurtz (@Zach_Wurtz) October 26, 2019
But just because rich people say something is true doesn’t mean that’s the case.
And in fact, it’s hard to see a more lopsided matchup than the overall PAC money being put behind these Amazon-approved candidates (again, $2.7 million) as compared to the overall PAC money (again, $660,411 ) that's being put behind their opponents.