The crane people are coming for Sawant. Again.
The crane people are coming for Sawant. Again. Lester Black

The Recall Sawant campaign started raising money to boot Councilmember Kshama Sawant 15 months ago. From its humble beginnings — at one time only accepting $25 anonymous donations — the campaign has now garnered over $740,000 from nearly 5,000 contributors. Still, as of Nov. 17, the anti-Sawant campaign trails the Kshama Solidarity campaign by about $100,000.

Now a new anti-Sawant PAC has arrived on the scene: “A Better Seattle.”

A Better Seattle’s committee initially registered Oct. 27, but money poured into the PAC starting Oct. 16, about a month before recall ballots would hit mailboxes in District 3. The PAC started with $1,000 pledges from the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, Washington Multi-Family Housing Association, and the Pine Street Group’s Matt Griffin.

Since then, the PAC has raked in nearly $80,000, which almost closes the fundraising gap between the recall campaign and Sawant’s defense.

A Better Seattle found funding quicker than the recall campaign. In its first full month, Recall Sawant raised just over $40,000. In less time, the last-minute PAC has raised nearly twice that amount.

The anti-Sawant PAC’s money comes from a small but mighty army of big-ticket donors. On average, A Better Seattle’s 106 contributors shell out $750 and some change compared to an average donation of $149.46 for Recall Sawant, and an even lower average donation of $88.89 for the Kshama Solidarity Fund.

Individuals can only donate up to $1,000, an amount that nearly two-thirds of A Better Seattle donors had no trouble hitting. For reference, maximum donations make up about 4.4% of the donations to Recall Sawant and about 2% of the donations to the Kshama Solidarity fund.

With a new PAC, many Recall Sawant donors are double dipping. About 54% of the donors to A Better Seattle have also contributed to the Sawant Recall PAC. One-third of A Better Seattle contributors have already given all they can legally give to Recall Sawant, and a quarter of its donors have maxed out in both anti-Sawant PACs.

For now, moneyed Sawant haters can only do $2,000 worth of damage, but the PAC is hungry for more.

In a letter dated Nov. 15, a representative of the PAC, Kevin Hamilton, asked the Washington Public Disclosure Commission to suspend contribution limits.

“As a recall committee, A Better Seattle does not have the potential for corruption, or the appearance of corruption, required for the PDC to enforce the contribution limits without violating the First Amendment,” the letter read.

Hamilton argued that recall committees do not have close relationships with candidates, so there is no threat of corruption. The Ninth Circuit released a similar recall committee from contribution limitation in the past based on this argument.

If the PAC is allowed unlimited donations, some of the same big businesses that attempted to buy Sawant’s seat in 2019 could have free rein to drop big money again.

Phillip Lloyd and Chris McLain run A Better Seattle. Lloyd is the owner of Seattle CFO, a downtown accounting and financial firm specializing in nonprofit organizations. McLain is the Business Manager at Ironworkers Local 86.

Lloyd is a key player in the realm of campaign finance in Seattle. Most recently, Lloyd served as treasurer for the now-defunct, pro-sweep initiative Compassion Seattle and for Seattle For Common Sense, which backed Republican Ann Davison’s successful bid for City Attorney. McLain organized against Sawant and her head tax push in 2018.

Aside from their own incestuous overlap, Recall Sawant and A Better Seattle also drew some of the same money that funded recent conservative wins.

Developer John Runstad and his wife Judy maxed out donations to both anti-Sawant PACs for a combined total of $4,000 to get the rent-control crusader off the council. The couple also put $35,000 into a PAC behind mayor-elect Bruce Harrell, which received another $10,000 from Runstad’s property management company, Wright Runstad & Company

Gregory Johnson, the CEO of Wright Runstad & Company, contributed the highest dollar amount he could to both the recall and the new anti-Sawant PAC. No stranger to financing conservative politicians, Johnson shelled out $1,000 for Davison’s PAC, $5,000 for a PAC backing Sara Nelson for city council, and $5,200 for Harrell’s PAC.

Mark Mason, the CEO of Homestreet Bank, put in $1,000 to Recall Sawant. His company put another $1,000 into the new PAC. Homestreet gave Harrell’s PAC a whopping $24,500, and tossed Nelson’s and Davison’s PACs $9,500 each.

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Tim Ceis, a partner at CBE Strategic, a consulting firm with a long list of corporate clients such as Amazon, Starbucks, and Vulcan, maxed out in the new anti-Sawant PAC. He also put money behind the conservative slate in the general election, and he gave the Compassion Seattle campaign $25,000 in services. Sandeep Kaushik gave the PAC $250 in consulting services.

While donors – largely familiar faces – flocked to the new PAC, A Better Seattle has only reported spending a few thousand dollars on online fundraising software. As we see every year, the campaign will probably spend the cash it raises to flood feeds with digital ads and to stuff mailboxes with salacious mailers accusing Sawant of all manner of offenses.

Still, Kaushik and others behind the strategy of this PAC may have their work cut out for them. For now, the campaigns are essentially neck-and-neck in funding. And though Sawant supporters wouldn't enjoy the spoils of a limitless PAC, her canvassers are relentless – they table in the dark.