Nov. 5 Seattle City Council elections have seen record-breaking satellite spending

Seattle, Washington, holds nonpartisan elections for seven district city council seats on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The races had seen a record-breaking $3.5 million in satellite spending through October 25—more than four times the amount in 2015, the last time the seven district seats were on the ballot. Seattle-based online retailer Amazon contributed $1.5 million to a political action committee (PAC), which had spent that amount toward the races as of Oct. 25.
New York Times technology correspondent Karen Weise said Amazon’s PAC contribution was “a staggering sum for a city election, let alone from a company that was M.I.A. in local politics for years. Four years ago, Amazon gave just $25,000 to the PAC.” GeekWire‘s Monica Nickelsburg wrote, “It’s a sign that local politics can have a big impact on this global corporation and an example of Amazon’s newfound appetite for civic engagement at all levels of government.”
Four council races are open. Incumbents Lisa Herbold (District 1), Kshama Sawant (District 3), and Debora Juarez (District 5) are seeking re-election.
The elections are occurring a year and a half after the repeal of the 2018 head tax proposal, which would have required businesses grossing at least $20 million to pay $275 per employee in order to fund housing programs for the homeless. The city council voted to pass the head tax 9-0 in May 2018 but then repealed it by a 7-2 vote in June 2018 after running into opposition from the city’s business community, including Amazon and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Sawant and Position 8 At-large Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda voted against repealing the tax. Juarez and Herbold voted with five others to repeal it.
Amazon has contributed $1.5 million to the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), the local chamber of commerce’s PAC. CASE is among more than a dozen satellite groups spending toward the council races. The following are spending highlights as of Oct. 25:
  • CASE had spent $1.5 million supporting endorsed candidates and opposing Herbold, Sawant, and District 4 candidate Dan Strauss.
  • Civic Alliance for a Progressive Economy (CAPE), a PAC affiliated with the labor group Working Washington, had spent $280,000. CAPE endorsed candidates in five council races—different candidates than those backed by CASE.
  • Labor union UNITE HERE’s local and federal PACs had spent more than $550,000 in support of candidate Andrew Lewis (District 7). He faces Jim Pugel, who was endorsed by CASE.
The following are other noteworthy features of the 2019 Seattle City Council races:
  • Across all seven elections, 56 candidates filed to run in the August 6 primaries. In 2015, 37 candidates filed for the same seven seats. (Ten additional candidates filed for the two at-large seats in 2015.)
  • This is the second election in which a voter voucher program is being used to provide public funding to campaigns. Twelve of 14 general election candidates are participating in the program. Including the primaries, 42 candidates have participated, and $2.4 million from the program had gone to campaigns as of Oct. 23.
  • This is the second election in recent history in which councilmembers are being elected by district; from 1910 to 2013, all Seattle councilmembers were elected at large. Two at-large seats remain on the council. They are next up for election in 2021.
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