When the campaign to recall District 3 City Council Member Kshama Sawant launched in early August, organizers claimed they had already raised $15,000. They also specifically asked interested parties only to contribute $25 or less to the ongoing effort.
As I reported last month, a campaign would only ask for donations that low for a couple reasons, both of which involve the fact that the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) does not require campaigns to report names, addresses, or employer information for donations that small.
According to the latest campaign filings, the Recall Sawant now reports over $40,890 in contributions from over 1,700 people. A whopping 19 of those donors listed their names and addresses. The rest are lumped in anonymously as "Unitemized Contributors of $25 or Less." Recall Sawant received 94% of its funds from these anonymous donors. But emails between the campaign's chair and others paint a clearer picture of who else is contributing time and resources to the campaign.
The head of the Recall Sawant campaign is District 3 resident named Ernie Lou, who cites "Sawant's actions and policy proposals" and a list of Mayor Jenny Durkan's grievances among his reasons for initiating the recall effort. But, according to emails, the body of the campaign is a little swarm of familiar Sawant rivals: ICE landlord and Seattle real-estate magnate Martin Selig tossed in a little cash, his daughter and presumed successor Jordan Selig is eager to help, and former District 3 council candidate Egan Orion contributed to the cause a list of around 2,500 campaign donors' names, addresses, and employers on the condition that the campaign kept his involvement "a secret."
If Recall Sawant makes it onto an upcoming ballot—SEEC director Wayne Barnett thinks maybe April 2021, if they get the signatures—only in-district residents would be allowed to vote on the issue. However, anyone can donate. Of the non-anonymous donors, only one listed an address in District 3 so far. She gave $50. A donor from Renton gave $25, and one from Bonney Lake threw in $50. An Amazon employee from Shoreline sent in $100.
According to Steve Finley, a consultant "doing some work with the Recall Sawant campaign," Selig, who lives outside the district, gave $25.
That's not much, considering the fact that the Seattle real estate mogul has been spending big in political campaigns since 2004, when he shelled out $273,156 to support the Monorail Recall initiative. In 2016, he maxed out his donations to Trump at $5,600. Selig also spent up to the $500 limit for Orion, who ran against Sawant in 2019. After scrutiny, Orion returned Selig's donation.
Finley said the only communication he'd had with Selig was to get Selig's address for a "$25 donation."
Finley also said he had never heard the name Jordan Selig before our chat Thursday, but emails show that he at least should have heard of her.
On August 17, Jordan Selig replied to an email from Lou, who was using the official Recall Sawant account, by saying, "Please let me know how I can be of help to you."
Lou then asked Jordan to forward all Recall Sawant emails to her contacts, and said he would add her to the campaign's volunteer list. The next day, Lou forwarded the email thread to Finley. Apparently beguiled by Jordan's gender-neutral name, Lou wrote: "Steve, Martin Selig's son! I told him to forward our emails to his contacts!!!"
Jordan Selig did not respond to a request for comment. Her automatic email reply stated she was out on vacation. Lou also did not respond to a request for comment.
Lou also wrote to Orion for help. On August 7, he described the need to conduct the signature-gathering process via mail due to the pandemic, and then asked if the campaign could use Orion's "robust email and physical address mailing list" to fundraise.
Orion replied, "I can help. But I want my participation kept a secret. Is that possible? I have a list of 2,500 supporters who donated to my campaign."
"Absolutely this will remain CONFIDENTIAL," Lou wrote back. He then sent an email to Finley: "Steve, Egan is in!" Finley confirmed that this email exchange occurred, and that Orion sent an email list to Lou.
According to Orion's follow-up email, he sent the Recall Sawant campaign a list of donors he had the emails for, and included zip code and employer information "if that's useful." In an email, Orion said providing that information amounted to the extent of his involvement with the campaign.
"I have had no involvement in the Recall Sawant campaign beyond providing them a list of supporters from my 2019 campaign (that information is all available to the general public online, save for e-mail addresses)," he said. "I asked that my involvement not be made public because I had no desire to be part of the recall campaign. Except for the most egregious cases, I don’t believe in using recalls as a political tool. That’s why we have elections. That said, I thought my supporters might be interested in the recall effort, which is why I shared the information."
If you were an Orion donor and got an email from Recall Sawant, then this is why!
The Recall Sawant campaign hasn't released any official statements in the past month, but signs advertising the effort have cropped up around Capitol Hill.
Meanwhile, according to Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, Sawant's office plans to host a Kshama Solidarity Rally on September 16.