Corporate money wins Seattle in new form after sparking ire of voters in 2019


In 2019, an attempt by local companies to pour millions of dollars into the election of moderate, business-friendly candidates for Seattle City Council not only failed but met with a poor response from voters. Two years later, a number of business-friendly candidates won all but one major race, with corporate money influencing in more subtle ways by election day.

Seattle conservatives seek influence behind the scenes

In the 2019 elections, seven out of nine seats on the Seattle city council stood for election, which represents a significant opportunity to exercise control over the city’s legislative body for years to come. This led to the formation of a local PAC known as the Civil Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), sponsored by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

CASE’s stated goals revolved around helping business-friendly candidates and attracted large donations from several prominent companies including Expedia ($ 50,000), Alaska Airlines ($ 20,000), Boeing ($ 15,000), and PEMCO Insurance ($ 7,500). Perhaps most notably, however, was a $ 1.4 million contribution from Amazon, which quickly turned into a narrative that local corporate interests were trying to buy into town hall.

This anti-Amazon message was especially important to District 3 Councilor Kshama Sawant, who described her narrow victory in her bid for re-election as a victory for “workers against the richest man in the world,” Jeff Bezos.

In the end, only two of the seven candidates CASE supported won their respective council elections, including Debora Juarez, an incumbent District 5 council member.

As Monisha Harrell – niece and campaign manager of Mayor Bruce Harrell, elected in 2021 – put it in 2019: “You never want to do the story yourself, and (Amazon) did just that.”

“It was about, ‘Are you Pro-Amazon or not?’ and the personalities of the individual candidates were somehow lost in the process, ”she told the Seattle Times two years ago.

CASE and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce later vowed to suspend future elections to rehabilitate a reputation tarnished by corporate money in 2019.

Fast forward to 2021, and political donations from companies were almost non-existent, perhaps because they had learned a tough lesson from allowing voters to associate recognizable corporate brands with a local election.

Instead, a list of individual corporate donors with similar interests took the lead in 2021, this time spread over a series of PACs and campaigns.

This included local real estate CEO John Goodman, who donated $ 90,000 to Harrell for Seattle’s Future PAC, $ 25,000 to Seattle for Common Sense (who supports City Attorney Candidate Ann Davison’s), and $ 5,000 to Change Seattle ( who supported Sara Nelson for the city council). Goodman also donated $ 50,000 to the Compassion Seattle homeless initiative, supported by this year’s list of moderate and conservative candidates.

Victories for moderate candidates prove Seattle’s “political landscape has changed”

Goodman’s business partner George Petrie – more recently known for his status as a donor to former President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” efforts – invested over $ 61,000 in Harrell for Seattle’s future and $ 25,000 in Seattle for Common Sense , $ 50,000 in Compassion Seattle and $ 5,000 in Seattle.

Vulcan Inc., the investment firm founded by the late Paul Allen and sister Jody, was also on the list of major spending backers who contributed to the triad of PACs that backed Harrell, Davison, and Nelson.

Meanwhile, most of the big monetary support for progressive candidates like Lorena Gonzalez, Nikkita Oliver and Nicole Thomas-Kennedy came from local unions and unions. Among those groups was a local PAC registered as Essential Workers for Lorena that raised nearly $ 1 million in donations. This included US $ 500,000 from Unite Here Tip, a PAC dedicated to “granting and spending to elect candidates who support the rights and interests of working people and their families” in state and city elections in the United States States.

Oliver similarly received labor benefits in the form of PAC funds from the Civil Alliance for a Prosperous Economy, which received over $ 125,000 from a collection of local unions.

Everyone from Gonzalez, Oliver, and Thomas-Kennedy also pounded home news that were critical of the corporate election money resurgence in 2021. Still, the final results suggest that their pitch didn’t go down as well with voters as the more flashy Amazon-centric narrative that tipped the scales in 2019 on the existential threat of a city leaning further to the left.

There are plenty of other theories that might answer the question of why moderates and conservatives were more successful in 2021 after similar candidates were all-out defeated just two years earlier. Perhaps the timing was better for Davison’s hard promise as a city attorney, or voters felt safe in Harrell’s image as an enterprising “change agent”.

However, in light of the pro-business interests that supported these candidates, a roadmap was drawn up to divert voters’ anger from corporate money well into the future.

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Corporate money wins Seattle in new form after sparking ire of voters in 2019