Here’s a sign that the Seattle mayoral race has juice: A political action committee involved in the contest just spent more than $110,000 on fruit.
Essential Workers for Lorena, an independent PAC bankrolled by unions that represent hotel and supermarket workers, recently bought 20,345 pounds of 1-ounce packets of dried cherries for mailers, according to a campaign finance report filed this week, underscoring the extraordinary amount of cash now being spent to sway voters ahead of the city’s Aug. 3 primary election.
Essential Workers for Lorena is supporting City Council President M. Lorena González for mayor. An independent PAC supporting former City Council president Bruce Harrell for mayor, called Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future, also reported major activity this week. Independent PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money as long as they don’t coordinate at all with the candidates, who are responsible only for their own campaigns.
Mailers are what people in politics call the glossy print advertisements that campaigns mail to voters. When González talks about her motivation, she often mentions that her parents were migrant farmworkers and that she started work at age 8, picking cherries.
Essential Workers for Lorena’s consultant bought the dried cherries from Chukar Cherries in Prosser, Benton County, according to the campaign finance report. The report also mentions separate spending on envelopes.
UFCW 21, the union that represents supermarket workers and others, declined to comment Wednesday on the cherries expense in particular. “Essential workers are supporting Lorena González for mayor because she’s the best candidate for working people in Seattle,” communications director Anna Minard said.
Harrell grew up in Seattle’s Central District, played football at the University of Washington and worked as a lawyer before serving at City Hall.
“Seattle needs a mayor with the background and vision to put our city back on track,” says the website for the PAC supporting him. “Bruce’s combined experience in public service and the private sector make him the choice for mayor we need now.”
This year’s spending by independent PACs looks record-breaking for a mayoral primary. In Seattle’s 2017 mayoral race, a PAC backing Jenny Durkan was the largest independent spender, dropping $118,000 before the primary, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. In 2013, a PAC supporting Ed Murray spent $128,000 before the primary, according to the commission.
This year, Essential Workers for Lorena has spent more than $300,000, while incurring about $130,000 in additional debts, according to this week’s campaign finance report.
Besides dried cherries, the PAC is spending on television commercials and other needs related to mailers, such as printing and postage.
Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future, the PAC supporting Harrell, has spent about $30,000 and incurred $114,000 in additional debts, according to a campaign finance report this week. The bulk of the money is paying for mailers.
The pro-Harrell PAC is being funded by individual donors, including more than two dozen who have contributed at least $5,000 each. Many of the major donors have connections to the real estate industry. For example, Goodman Real Estate chief executive George Petrie has contributed more than $60,000, the PAC has reported.
There are other PACs that have registered and that could support other mayoral candidates, but they haven’t yet reported much spending.
To put the independent PAC spending in perspective, González’s actual campaign has reported spending about $211,000, with $82,000 in debts, and Harrell’s has reported spending about $193,000, with $90,000 in debts.
Sarah Cherin, chief of staff at UFCW 21 and an officer with Essential Workers for Lorena, said the PAC is allowing low-wage workers to pool their money. “This is a mechanism we use for workers to have their voice be heard by a bigger audience,” she said.
While major donors to Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future may include real estate executives, the PAC’s leadership team includes “people from all walks of life and all around the community who have come together to support Bruce,” said Dean Nielsen, a political consultant working with the PAC.
The limit on individual contributions to mayoral candidates’ campaigns is $550.
“Anytime you set up a campaign finance system that drastically limits contributions to candidates, you’re going to have independent expenditures,” Nielsen said.