On Monday Seattle progressives gathered at the doorstep of the waterfront headquarters of mega-landlord John Goodman’s empire, Goodman Real Estate, which boasts managed assets valued at more than $2.5 billion.
Goodman Real Estate is the kind of real estate company that doubles rents and doesn’t offer relocation assistance until after tenants protest outside the founder’s yacht marina. Goodman is the kind of rich person who tries to buy elections.
At the press conference, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, state House Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley (D-Seattle), council candidate Nikkita Oliver, city attorney candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, and others stood behind Economic Opportunity Institute director Summer Stinson and shared one resounding message: “Seattle democracy is not a piece of Real Estate. It is not ‘For Sale’ to the highest bidder.”
Progressives like @ntkallday @NikkitaOliver and @ElectKHT stand outside the property of John Goodman, the single largest contributor to conservative PACs, to bring attention to money influence in the city election pic.twitter.com/Of1t5GC8Kx
— hannah krieg (@hannahkrieg) October 25, 2021
“We've heard it said many times – or at least I've heard it said many times in my race – that the loudest voices are the ones being heard in City Hall. That's not true,” Oliver said. “In fact, it is the voices that you often do not hear, that we do not know exist, and have enough money and wealth to buy their ways into the halls of power.”
Running a campaign is an expensive business – those creepy mailers don’t send themselves. As of campaign finance reports from Oct. 27, the two finalists gunning for Mayor have raked in more than a combined $4.26 million between their campaigns and the independent expenditure committees (IEs) backing them.
Though local campaign finance laws restrict the amount of money individuals can donate to campaigns, IEs can raise and spend without limits so long as they pinky-promise not to coordinate on strategy with the candidates they support.
In terms of total dollars raised, labor-backed Lorena González is not too far behind corporate-backed Bruce Harrell. Her IE, Essential Workers for Lorena, raised just a few thousand shy of $1 million. Harrell’s IE, Harrell for Seattle’s Future, raised over $1.3 million.
González raised another million in hard cash and Democracy Vouchers (Seattle’s public campaign financing program), while Harrell raised $1.2 million. Nearly 11,000 people donated directly to González’s campaign, and about 70% of her contributions came from vouchers; more than 8,800 people donated to Harrell’s campaign, and vouchers account for 46% of his donations.
With a contribution of $90,000, Goodman ranks as the top donor to the IE that wants to put Harrell back in the Mayor’s office.
Goodman also gave $25,000 to Seattle for Common Sense, an IE that supports Republican Ann Davison for city attorney. In the last week alone, that IE shelled out over $84,000 on ads against her opponent, Thomas-Kennedy. George Petrie, Goodman Real Estate CEO and Washington’s biggest donor to Donald Trump’s “stop to steal rally,” also threw $5,000 into that committee.
“They really don't want me in office,” Thomas-Kennedy said at the presser. “The city attorney has the ability to settle any lawsuit. And that should bring us all to a chilling place, because the people that are suing the city right now over things like the JumpStart tax and our tenants rights laws are the exact same people that are funding the PACs against all these progressive candidates.”
She added: “These people expect to get something for their money. They didn't become rich by wasting money. They know what they're going to get.”
The JumpStart tax, a payroll tax on big business that the council approved in 2020, is being attacked on just about all fronts. The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce continues to rally against the payroll tax, appealing the dismissal of its lawsuit. Mayor Jenny Durkan, who was backed by big business during her campaign, undermined the tax’s spending plan in her recently proposed budget. Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) and Tim “$30 car tabs” Eyman could kill JumpStart if their initiative succeeds.
The Chamber May Not Be Playing, But Some of Its Money Is
Progressives are scared right now, and they’ve got good reason to be. Only two years ago Amazon tried to buy a slate of conservative city council members by dropping an unprecedented $1.5 million into the coffers of the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), an IE run by the political arm of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. Though the infusion of cash increased CASE’s spending power to nearly $2.7 million, the ostentatious donation backfired and politicians such as Kshama Sawant rode a Tax Amazon wave to victory.
That same narrative couldn’t play out quite like that again this year, partly because of legislation passed by the council, and partly because this summer the Chamber called a “truce,” as the Seattle Times put it: no more endorsements, no more limitless PAC pumping corporate money into Seattle elections.
Political consultant Sandeep Kaushik (remember that name) told the paper that the chamber’s new CEO, Rachel Smith, would have to help Seattle business leaders “reestablish that they do have some clout and some relevance and some ability to help shape outcomes.”
Though the Chamber exited the field to detoxify its brand (presumably so it could go supersonic), the business interests that dumped money into its IE are still alive and dumping.
The top 50 donors of Harrell’s IE make up 66% of the committee’s funding, and 41% of those funds came from CASE-affiliated donors; that is, donors who personally gave to CASE at one point or who ran companies that gave to CASE. The CASE-affiliated contributions from Harrell’s top 50 donors account for 27% of the IE’s overall funds.
Looking a little closer: The top donors to Harrell's PAC include Seattle real estate moguls Goodman and Petrie; developers such as Vulcan, R.C. Hedreen, Jon and Judy Runstad, and NAIOP Washington State PAC; hotel interests such as Hospitality for Progress and Howard Wright III; Washington Multi-Family Housing Association (the association for large landlords); Mariner’s co-owner Christopher Larson; and executives of Saltchuk Resources (a shipping and trucking company).
An eerily similar list of real estate and corporate interests heavily financed the campaigns for the last two mayors via the Chamber’s IE, CASE.
Money from CASE made up much of the IE funds supporting both Durkan and Murray; CASE money comprised 79% of Durkan’s IE and 41% of Murray’s IE.
In 2017, Amazon, Vulcan, R.C. Hedreen, Comcast, Washington Association of Realtors, and Washington Multi-Family Housing Association gave big bucks to CASE, who then turned around and gave big bucks to Durkan. Other familiar faces – Saltchuk Resources, NAIOP Washington State, and Hospitality for Progress – gave directly to her IE.
In 2013, Amazon, Vulcan, R.C. Hedreen Co, Comcast, the Seattle Mariners and Puget Sound Energy gave big bucks to CASE, who then gave big bucks to Murray. The Runstad family also gave directly to his IE.
Same Campaign Strategists, Too
A lot of this money is the same partly because the people running the campaigns and IE strategy for Murray, Durkan, and Harrell are all the same.
Kaushik (remember him?) ran Murray’s campaign in 2013 and worked with him to plan the best ways to defend against sexual abuse allegations should they arise during the campaign. Kaushik has lobbied for Comcast, Lyft, and AirBnB. Ceis Bayne East Strategic (whose clients include Amazon, NAIOP, Microsoft, PSE, Vulcan, and Wright Runstad, among others) and CN4 developed the strategy for Murray’s IE that year.
Kaushik and Kelly Evans of Soundview Strategies then went on to run Durkan’s campaign in 2017. Northwest Passage — a consulting firm headed by Christian Sinderman, who “worked for Murray and considered him a friend” — ran strategy for Durkan’s IE alongside Ceis Bayne East Strategic.
Sinderman now runs Harrell’s campaign, and the IE supporting Harrell hired CN4 as its consultant. Meanwhile, this year Ceis Bayne East Strategic consulted for Compassion Seattle, the failed campaign for a ballot measure that aimed to cement sweeps into the city’s charter — Harrell copied the policy for his homelessness plan.
Kaushik isn’t far away, either – he’s the consultant for Change Seattle (the IE supporting conservative city council candidate Sara Nelson). And when not running strategy on Harrell’s IE, CN4 spends its time blue-washing Davison’s campaign.
The top contributors on both the Davison and Nelson campaigns bear striking resemblance to Harrell’s donor list, and thus to Durkan’s and to Murray’s. Vulcan, Saltchuk Resources, Washington Multi-Family Housing Association, John Goodman, and Christopher Larson help fund Davison’s IE. Vulcan, Saltchuk Resources, Washington Multi-Family Housing Association, Seattle Hospitality for Progress, and NAIOP Washington State PAC help fund Nelson’s IE.
The Progressives Have Their Fav Consultants and Money, Too
One major difference between the Murray and Durkan campaigns and the Harrell campaign is labor support.
Some labor unions and big businesses aligned in 2013 to unseat Mike McGinn and elect Murray. Durkan also scored support from labor and business, though some labor unions threw their weight behind Cary Moon. This time around, the labor council is more decisively backing the progressive slate.
Unions gave over $994,000 to González’s IE. Though that’s a lot of money, it’s important to note that corporate money comes from profits, while labor money comes from union dues. For instance, UFCW 21 has over 45,000 members, and about 9,000 of those members make donations of on average less than $2 a week to support the union’s political work, according to a press advisory signed by UFCW 21’s special projects director.
There is also overlap between consultants. Heather Weiner ran Moon’s unsuccessful mayoral bid before taking the lead on González’s campaign. Northwest Passage also does a lot of work with unions and Democratic candidates.
Despite the same winning money from big business funneling into Harrell’s PAC, the progressives at the press conference seemed hopeful.
“Conservative PACs funded by wealthy landlords like John Goodman are yet again trying to buy our elections. And our progressive coalition of Democrats, working people, and underrepresented communities are yet again rising up to fight back,” said Amy Madden, board member for the 43rd District Democrats.
Ever a believer in the grassroots, they are urging voters to fill out their damn ballot. Recent polls have Harrell leading González 48% to 32%.
Seattle voters have returned about 16% of ballots based on the latest reports from King County Elections. So far, voter turnout in Seattle appears high among home-owners with water views. Historically, the bulk of the progressive vote comes in later.
At the press conference on Monday, Harris-Talley spoke directly to voters to try to avoid this very scenario.
“Let me tell you what the folks who are betting on buying this election are really betting on: you sitting it out,” she said.
She added, “Please, vote, talk to your neighbors. Make sure you know what you're voting for. Make sure you know who you're voting for is not going to cower to moneyed interests that don't care about you at the end of the day, but will stand up for you and your families.”