She saw Amazon donate $200,000 to Seattle’s business lobby to use in this year’s City Council races. She heard business lobbyists vowing to remake the council by tapping voter frustration over homelessness. She watched a former mayor help launch a political-action committee using similar rhetoric.
That all worried Rachel Lauter. Her union-backed political-advocacy organization, Working Washington, has gained clout at City Hall in recent years while helping to push the council to raise Seattle’s minimum wage, tighten labor standards and raise taxes on businesses.
So this week, Working Washington and some allies launched a PAC of their own. Meant to counter the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, the new committee is “cheekily” called Civic Alliance for a Progressive Economy, Lauter said.
The approach could intensify the races for seven district-based seats and help decide who holds sway over the council. The other initial partners are the immigrant-rights champion OneAmerica Votes and Civic Action, a lefty outfit started by Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer. The primary election is Aug. 6 and the general election is Nov. 5.
“Many of us were concerned about this narrative emerging and … the intent of a hostile takeover of the City Council,” Lauter said. “Seattle is an overwhelmingly progressive city … This is about fighting back.”
Working Washington has close ties to SEIU 775, which represents home-health workers. Its strategy in the 2015 races involved outing business-backed council candidates to voters on a special website (two won, two lost).
This year, the Chamber’s PAC has raised $765,000 and had $544,000 in cash on hand as of June 10. Its goal is to help candidates “who will restore trust, represent their districts and get back to the basics of governing,” Executive Director Markham McIntyre said in a statement Friday.
“Voters want change on the Seattle City Council, and it’s clear why. The current council is more focused on scoring political points than making progress on challenges like homelessness, public safety, and transportation,” he said.
People for Seattle, a PAC led by Tim Burgess, former mayor and council member, and by small-business leader Taylor Hoang has raised $141,000 and had $139,000 in cash on hand.
Burgess and Hoang have said People for Seattle will support candidates committed to transparent, accountable and responsive governance. They’ve stressed their PAC is independent from the Chamber and have collected scores of donations of $100 or less. Some of their large donors are private-sector power players. Heather Redman of Flying Fish Partners, Howard Wright III of Seattle Hospitality Group, hotel developer Richard Hedreen and Mariners owner John Stanton have each donated at least $500, for example.
Lauter says the business lobby wants voters to blame the council for Seattle’s homelessness crisis and to think that new laws are hurting companies. In reality, Seattle’s economy has continued to grow, she says. City Hall needs more money from large corporations to address the crisis, Lauter contends.
“What is the plan to actually solve the homeless crisis?” Lauter asked. “Big-business interests are worried the council is going to ask them to do more.”
Civic Alliance for a Progressive Economy hasn’t raised money yet but has put out a candidate questionnaire, she said. The PAC intends to rate candidates based on their answers, she said.
PACs can spend money on City Council races by contributing to independent-expenditure committees that spend for or against candidates.