Move Seattle levy campaign money pits business, labor and advocacy group donors against Faye Garneau, who almost single-handedly changed the way we elect City Council members.
There’s not been anyone quite like Faye Garneau in Seattle politics.
An octogenarian advocate for Aurora Avenue merchants, Garneau almost single-handedly funded the 2013 campaign for district elections that changed the way we choose City Council members.
This season Garneau is at it again, spending $150,755 of her own money to bankroll opposition to the largest property-tax levy in city history, the $930 million Move Seattle transportation measure.
Garneau’s spending appears consistent with her history of political giving. She has backed other campaigns aimed at restraining City Hall spending on transportation and parks. But her contributions in the last two elections dwarf her previous efforts.
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She is still outgunned, though, on the Move Seattle measure by a mix of 41 business, labor and advocacy-group donors — some of whom stand to benefit from levy projects — that have supplied the vast majority of the $222,682 supporting it.
“Faye is a unique breed of Seattleite. Passionate about her city, especially the Aurora Avenue corridor, she has the know-how, network, tenacity and resources to affect change — with or without you,” said Colby Underwood, a longtime Seattle fundraising consultant now working in the private sector and not involved in this year’s campaigns.
Others have less benevolent views about Garneau, who has contributed $55,000 to Tim Eyman’s latest tax-limiting measure.
“She’s a major property owner, hates taxes and has a pretty strong anti-government philosophy she has expressed over the 12 years I’ve known her,” said City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chair of the council’s Transportation Committee.
Garneau, a founder of the Aurora Avenue Merchants Association, built a small fortune and a charitable foundation with her late husband by buying properties around Seattle, particularly along Aurora Avenue.
She opposes the levy, she said, because of its burdensome taxes for basic government services and misguided priorities promoting buses and bikes at the expense of cars. Never mind, she said, that the levy proposes a list of “illustrative” but not mandatory projects.
“I’m trying to do what’s right. I’m blessed that I have finances enough to do something about it,” Garneau said. “I’m only against buses when they take away parking from small businesses.”
The top contributor in support of the levy is Paul Allen’s development company, Vulcan, with $20,000. Amazon stands second at $15,000. The Cascade Bicycle Club is third with $12,600 in contributed labor.
Six donors have given $10,000 each — developer Urban Visions, real-estate investment firm Metzler North America, consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, the Washington and Northern Idaho District Council of Laborers, the Mariners baseball team, and the Downtown Seattle Association.
Along with 32 others who contributed at least $1,000, these top donors accounted for 94 percent of all the funds raised by the campaign, roughly matching Garneau’s share of the $163,692 contributed to the opposition effort.
Most gave because they see transportation as a major challenge for their employees, customers and the city, said campaign spokesman Sandeep Kaushik.
Some of these same donors were among the top contributors to the city’s previous transportation levy, the $365 million Bridging the Gap measure in 2006.
“It is the usual cadre of political donors you see for a measure of this kind,” said Underwood, who worked as the consultant for Bridging the Gap and helped political clients raise more than $100 million between 2002 and 2013.
Big donors do not appear to be giving to this year’s measure because the levy promises projects that directly benefit them. The levy sprinkles millions around the city for street and bridge maintenance, walking and bicycling improvements, transit enhancements and traffic control.
“I can’t think of any projects considered pet projects by major donors,” said Rasmussen, who has spent about a dozen hours, he estimates, calling potential levy donors for the campaign.
Most donors are probably not seeking any quid pro quo, Underwood said, based on his experience.
Eugene Wasserman, a spokesman for the levy opposition, believes some firms wrote pro-levy checks to help their relationships with Mayor Ed Murray and other city officials. “That’s the way politics works,” Wasserman said.
That’s not to say some donors won’t see rewards from the levy — $32,000 in donations have come from firms that have had consulting contracts with the city.
Parsons Brinckerhoff, for instance, has been awarded $1.5 million in city transportation contracts since 2012. KPFF Consulting Engineers, which has donated $3,000 to the levy campaign, received $4.3 million in city contracts since 2012.
Both firms were among top contributors to the 2006 transportation levy.
A spokeswoman for Parsons Brinckerhoff said the firm gives to campaigns that build roads, bridges and infrastructure, areas where the firm has engineering expertise and can compete for contracts. (Public-sector contracts for engineering and architecture services require competitive bids, except in emergencies, under state law.)
“Parsons Brinckerhoff has a long history of supporting candidates and measures that invest in infrastructure,” said Jayanti Menches.
Labor unions also may expect benefits, in the way of work for members, from the levy.
“I would say this levy funds projects and they require people to carry them out, to plan, design and construct them,” said Rasmussen.
Garneau said she’s not against the levy because it would impose higher taxes on her properties. She said she would just pass those costs on to tenants.
And it’s not about her ego or legacy, she said. “I don’t have to have a legacy. I’ve been having a good life. I built a school for our parish because the old one was falling down around the kids, not because I wanted a legacy. My ego is fine,” she said.