Contact Us

Show Me The Money: Who Is Funding The City Council Candidates?

The results of Seattle City Council’s primary election are in and they indicate that the debates over taxing big business, a growing homelessness issue and lack of affordable housing are still brewing.

Seven of the nine council seats are up for re-election and three incumbents are running for re-election: District 5’s Deborah Juarez, District 1’s Lisa Herbold and District 3’s Kshama Sawant. All three will advance to the primaries, but none received more than 50% of the primary vote.

Seattle Waterfront

District 3

Sawant, who represents the Capitol Hill district, will be challenged in the general election by Egan Orion. Sawant out-raised all the other candidates by approximately $200K. The total funds raised by her campaign were $295,549. Only a few of the other candidates raised more than $100,000. 

Many of Sawant’s largest contributors live out-of-state, according to public records. Of the money that came in chunks of $500 or more, about $37K was from out-of-state donors. 

Sawant is a member of the Socialist Alternative Party, which is a closed-membership, dues-paying organization. Members must pass an interview prior to joining to prove their political views are in line with the organization, according to a report by SCC Insight

Orion, received only two $500 donations from those who live outside of Washington. Both of those donors are employed by Amazon, and Orion has had strong financial support from Amazon employees —16 people employed by Amazon gave Orion’s campaign $500. 

Perhaps this should come as no surprise since Sawant was one of the leading supporters of the head tax proposal that was designed to tax companies that gross more than $20M. The tax proposal has since been repealed but was meant to raise about $47M from approximately 585 companies.

Those funds would have been spent on new low-income housing and homeless services. Many felt that Amazon was the prime target of the tax and Amazon took the attack personally. Despite the tax repeal, Amazon has changed directions on future development in Seattle and now has ramped up plans to develop in Bellevue

Orion’s financial support also came from those employed by the commercial real estate industry, including Urban Visions, Vulcan, Wright Runstad & Co., Adco Properties, Pine Street Group and R. C. Hedreen Co

Neither Sawant nor Orion responded to requests for comments.

District 1

Over in District 1, which includes West Seattle, Alki and South Park, Phillip Tavel is challenging Lisa Herbold. 

Herbold told Bisnow she is aware there is a “well-funded” effort toward a more conservative council. However, she said she feels that she has “raised the bar” for council members delivering services to constituents.

“My future commitments to the voters of District 1 are focused on the issues I hear on the campaign trail that are most important to them,” she said. “They include improving police visibility by funding the Seattle Police Department to meet our hiring goals, funding homelessness interventions with proven outcomes like enhanced shelter and doubling our investments in permanent supportive housing for people with disabilities, mental illness and substance abuse disorders.”

Herbold so far raised $95,669, and her donors are mostly from the Seattle area. They include employees from the WA Low Income Housing Alliance, Plymouth Housing, King County Housing Authority and Seattle Housing and Resource Effort. Service Employees International Union Local #6 also contributed to Herbold’s campaign.

Tavel has raised about $78K so far. He received donations from the PacNW Regional Council of Carpenters SSF, the Washington Multi Family Housing Association and people who work at Windemere, Pine Street Group, Vulcan, Amazon and CBRE

"I think there is a movement towards the middle," said Tavel, who is a trial attorney.

Tavel told Bisnow that if elected he will push the city to audit some of the larger departments and look at how much is being spent and on what. He would like to see transitional housing programs for those recently released from jail. Improving police morale is another important issue, he said.

Tavel is also concerned that small landlords are not able to do background checks on potential tenants because of a 2017 Seattle city council decision.

"I don’t see why I can’t be pro-business without being anti-labor," he said. "I don't see why I can't be pro-small landlord without being anti-tenant. Without moderation we miss the opportunity to have balance. I am seeking fairness and equity for everyone."

Incumbent Deborah Juarez has raised about $75K. Juarez penned a scathing memo to the Progressive Revenue Task Force last year when it made recommendations on how to come up with funds to ease the homelessness issue. In the March 2018 memo, she questioned whether certain industries, such as pot shops, were being given preferential treatment. 

District 5 

In District 5, which includes Northgate, Greenwood and Lake City, Juarez received donations from the Washington Multi Family Association PAC, the PacNW Regional Council of Carpenters, Neighborhoods for Smart Streets, LMN Architects, Pine Street Group, Teamsters Local Union 117, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, SEIU Local 6 PAC, Laborers Local 242 SSF and Washington State Democrats. She also received donations from people who work at Amazon, Coldwell Banker Bain, Windemere and the Seattle Aquarium.

Her challenger, Ann Davison Sattler, received funds from people who work at Clark Fadden Commercial Real Estate, Amazon, Microsoft, Windemere and Microsoft.