Charlie Staadecker may be a longshot to become Seattle’s next mayor. But his campaign consultant is having a pretty good year.
Staadecker, a 70-year-old commercial real-estate broker who is polling at 3 percent in Seattle’s nine-way mayoral primary, has paid consultant Colby Underwood about $66,000 since entering the race, according to documents filed recently with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.
Incumbent Mike McGinn’s top consultant, by comparison, has made $21,000; state Sen. Ed Murray’s has made $18,000; Councilmember Bruce Harrell’s has made $15,000; and former Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck’s has made $13,000, according to the documents.
Underwood, who is known as a prolific fundraiser, has helped first-time candidate Staadecker raise an impressive $195,000 as of July 15.
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But the campaign has so far directed 70 percent of its spending toward fundraising efforts and consulting fees — about double the racewide average, according to disclosure documents.
“When you enter a citywide political race for the first time, you need expertise in winning,” Staadecker said. “I chose an expert that I thought would be important in ensuring that I was on the right path, and it was funds that I thought were well-expended.”
Staadecker and Underwood said the numbers are misleading because the consultant’s firm also is handling basic campaign operations, such as issue research and candidate-questionnaire response.
But other local political insiders said that even so, Staadecker is spending far less than usual — just 20 percent — on the all-important category of “voter contact,” or mailings and advertising.
“The fact that he has raised that amount of money, given his neophyte political status, is impressive,” said Sterling Clifford, who served as spokesman for Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2012 bid. “But typically when you raise money for a campaign, you want to be able to spend some of that money actually campaigning.”
Clifford and others said Staadecker’s spending illustrates how consultants are increasingly being relied upon — and well compensated — in local races.
State Rep. Ross Hunter said every campaign has overhead costs and that consultants can play an important role.
But, the Medina Democrat said, “Beyond a certain point, it’s not clear how much value consultants add.”
Consultant Steve Finley, who mostly works on local Eastside races, said many candidates today don’t do their own research to see how much it actually costs to run a campaign.
“It shows poor decision-making by the person who wants to be in office,” said Finley, adding that an ideal campaign would spend 70 percent of its money on voter contact.
No campaign in this year’s Seattle mayoral race has achieved that ratio. But Staadecker is furthest from it.
The breakdown of contributions and expenditures are detailed in disclosure reports that are generally required to be filed once per month.
The latest reports list information through July 15.
They indicate that McGinn so far has raised some $270,000 and directed 24 percent of his spending toward fundraising and consulting — mostly to a firm called Winpower Strategies, founded by John Wyble.
That has allowed the campaign to spend 53 percent on mailings and television and radio advertising. It also has spent 23 percent on basic operations.
Harrell, who has raised about $240,000, has spent 27 percent on fundraising and consulting and 12 percent on operations, allowing for 61 percent spending on voter contact.
Murray and Steinbrueck each have spent in largely the same ratios: 40 percent on fundraising and consulting, 25 percent on operations and 35 percent on voter contact.
Murray, however, has raised and spent far more.
His roughly $300,000 in fundraising has gone in part to more than a half-dozen consulting firms. The campaign’s top consultant is Sandeep Kaushik of Soundview Strategies.
Steinbrueck has raised about $150,000, according to disclosure documents.
The other candidates have not raised or spent much money.
A recent Survey USA poll showed McGinn and Murray in a statistical dead heat, at 21 and 22 percent, respectively, ahead of the Aug. 6 primary. Steinbrueck received 14 percent in the poll, Harrell got 11 percent and Staadecker registered at 3 percent.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal