Councilmember Kshama Sawant has dubbed the effort to remove her from office a "right-wing recall."
Based on emails The Stranger reviewed last year, we know that Sawant's political rivals, such as Trumpy real estate developer Martin Selig and failed city council candidate Egan Orion, helped get the campaign off of the ground before the Washington State Supreme Court certified the effort. (Selig gave a little money, and the campaign paid Orion $200 for his 2019 donor list over two months after he supplied the list and one month after a The Stranger reported about Orion assisting the campaign.)
In the months since the court gave the recall the green light to start gathering the 10,000+ signatures needed to make it on a ballot, people across the city—and mostly in Sawant's own District 3—have poured money into the campaign. Recall Sawant boasts nearly $515,000 in fundraising from just under 4,500 people. But is this recall effort truly right-wing?
According to campaign disclosures, around $102,700 (or approximately 20%) of the recall money came from people who previously donated to statewide or national conservative campaigns. A little over 25% of those Republican boosters also donated to Donald Trump or to Trump-affiliated PACs such as the MAGA PAC or the Faith and Freedom PAC.
While a majority of recall campaign contributors haven't given Republicans money, it's unclear how many others are just conservatives who haven't dropped any money on the GOP, or how many are just liberals who genuinely want to remove a politician for participating in protests during COVID-19. That said, some of the donors look familiar because of their participation in campaigns against a progressive city council.
First, there's Jeannine Christofilis, a retail business owner and mother of four, who threw $600 at the recall. You may remember Christofilis for co-founding Moms for Seattle, the 2019 PAC that billed itself as a bunch of moms concerned about the homelessness crisis. Moms for Seattle funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the candidates whose entire campaigns boiled down to "bringing back responsibility" to City Hall or whatever.
Three big real estate guys—Martin Smith, George Petrie, and John Goodman—gave $500, $1,000, and $1,000, respectively, to the recall. They also gave $50,000 each to Compassion Seattle, the proposed city charter amendment seeking to enshrine certain spending policies and encampment sweeps into Seattle's constitution.
While Compassion Seattle sounds good, it reeks. The charter amendment would require the city to build 2,000 shelter units in a year, but it doesn't identify a funding mechanism to do so. Earlier this month, the ACLU of Washington decried Compassion Seattle because "destroying unhoused peoples’ homes and shuffling them all over Seattle has only exacerbated the region’s housing crisis and pushed more of our neighbors onto City streets. It has no place in our City Charter."
Compassion Seattle claims to be the solution to the homelessness crisis, a means to get the city council to finally just *fist clench* act on homelessness. But the charter amendment's
real goal totally incidental effect is to function as a shadow campaign against the city council, which will no doubt help out whichever corporate-friendly candidate emerges from the August primary. The Sawant recall serves this same function as well, using the council's most visible and recognizable member as a proxy for the entire council.
Former City Councilmember and temporary mayor Tim Burgess co-created Compassion Seattle. Burgess constantly levels criticism against the council for being "inaccessible and uncompromising." In 2019, Burgess started the People for Seattle PAC to bring "good governance" back to the city. The PAC raised over $667,000 to spend on the same candidates Moms for Seattle and the Chamber of Commerce's PAC, Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), also spent hundreds of thousands to elect. Amazon ultimately dumped $1.5 million into CASE, which supported those same candidates. The Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Compassion for Seattle. Burgess did not respond to a request for comment.
After all of that money and effort, all of those candidates except Alex Pedersen and Councilmember Debora Juarez lost their races. This time around, the Chamber said it's not endorsing candidates and it won't create a PAC to funnel money to the politicians its members like during this election.
That's where Burgess's Compassion Seattle comes in. If you've received a Compassion Seattle mailer, you'll notice the bold message at the bottom right under a picture of tents: "THE MAYOR AND SEATTLE CITY COUNCIL DO NOT HAVE A PLAN TO SOLVE THIS CRISIS! IT IS TIME FOR ACTION!" The corporate campaign against the head tax and the Chamber's/Burgess's campaigns against the threat of a progressive council in 2019 made the same arguments, except this time the message is coming from a soft pink rainbow sticker.
"The backers of Compassion Seattle learned from that huge miscalculation in 2019," said Tiffani McCoy, advocacy director with Real Change and a spokesperson for House Our Neighbors!, a group campaigning against Compassion Seattle. "Now they're going after the heart of homelessness—the biggest issue facing our nation—with the flowery language in this measure."
McCoy sees "a drastic overlap" between Compassion Seattle's donors and those people "who want to flip city council seats."
According to McCoy, Compassion Seattle serves as a convenient "wedge issue." Through Compassion Seattle, the amendment backers can "drag the council... without it being directly linked to a candidate."
Even though the Chamber of Commerce said it was butting out of elections this year, the ideas they championed are still around, masquerading as a feel-good fix for the housing crisis and a check on the council via the Sawant recall. Both campaigns will run through the fall, with Compassion Seattle likely going on the November ballot and the recall probably going on a February special election ballot. Both have women of color on the council at the center of the campaigns. And both are built on anti-council propaganda created by people who would rather the council work for them instead of for low-income, non-white renters.
Compassion Seattle's self-imposed signature-gathering deadline was Friday. McCoy and House Our Neighbors are currently running a "decline to sign" campaign against the amendment, which is currently still gathering signatures to get on the November ballot. House Our Neighbors is also trying to educate people about how they can remove their signature from Compassion Seattle's petition since, according to McCoy, many people didn't realize what they were signing.
📣This just in! Want to remove your signature from "Compassion" Seattle, you must do the following:
Withdrawal requests must include a) a description of the petition, b) the name exactly as signed on the petition, and c) the signature of the person seeking withdrawal.
— House Our Neighbors! (@houseRneighbors) June 21, 2021