A super PAC has jumped into the race for retiring U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott’s Seattle-area seat. Affiliated with EMILY’s List, it’s supporting state Sen. Pramila Jayapal. Her opponent, King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, says super PACs should have no place in politics.

Share story

A super PAC has jumped into the race for retiring U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott’s Seattle-area seat, and one candidate who’s not benefiting from the new spending says the move underscores his own commitment to getting outside money out of politics.

But the candidate receiving help from the group says she’s proud of it.

When Joe McDermott (no relation to Jim) in May asked his opponents to join him in signing a “People’s Pledge” to pre-emptively renounce any and all independent spending in Washington’s 7th Congressional District, Pramila Jayapal declined.

The pledge requires candidates to donate money from their campaigns to charity if they benefit from outside spending.

Now Jayapal, a state senator, is benefiting from the first independent spending group to get involved in the race. Since July 22, Women Vote!, a super PAC affiliated with EMILY’s List, the women’s group that supports abortion rights, has spent almost $50,000 to boost Jayapal’s bid, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Super PACs are groups that since the 2010 Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United have been allowed to accept and spend unlimited contributions from corporations and unions while operating independently from candidate campaigns.

McDermott, who chairs the King County Council, argues that super PACs are ruining U.S. elections by flooding them with millions and millions of dollars of spending not controlled by candidates — sometimes using “dark money” contributions that can’t be traced back to individual donors.

“We have a chance to lead with our values in this race and I was clear from the beginning that we needed to weigh in against super PACs corrupting our democracy,” he said Tuesday. “Our race should be about the people of the 7th District, not outside interests.”

But Jayapal campaign manager Aaron Bly hailed the Women Vote! spending.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the support the campaign has received locally and from progressives around the country and are proud to have the support of the largest group dedicated to electing progressive women to office,” Bly said in a statement.

“We have received more major endorsements than any candidate in this race and have built a strong grass-roots campaign,” he added, saying Jayapal’s campaign has attracted more than 35,000 small-contribution donors and more than 1,000 volunteers.

When EMILY’s List endorsed Jayapal in March, its president, Stephanie Schriock, called her “a progressive champion” for women and families.

“Pramila is a tireless fighter for commonsense immigration reform to keep families together, grow our economy, and strengthen our communities,” Schriock said.

State Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, the third Democratic front-runner among nine total candidates, has said he’ll sign McDermott’s pledge only if Jayapal signs it, too.

Since May, Jayapal has said McDermott’s pledge isn’t worth signing because “not all independent expenditures are created equal” — groups collecting small donations from union workers are different from those bankrolled by billionaires like the Koch brothers.

McDermott said he disagrees. “We can’t pick and choose which organizations we’re going to be OK with,” he said. “We have to fix the overall problem. If you say one organization is OK, then someone will tell you another is OK.”

EMILY’s List has been embroiled this year in a similar back and forth between Democratic candidates for a U.S. Senate seat in Maryland.

Also in Washington’s 7th District race are Democrats Arun Jhaveri and Donovan Rivers, Republicans Scott Sutherland and Craig Keller, and independents Leslie Regier and Carl Cooper.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

Jhaveri, a former Burien mayor and manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Department of Energy, has signed McDermott’s pledge.

Jayapal, who scored an endorsement this spring from Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, was leading in campaign contributions as of July 13.

The former immigrant-rights activist had raised more than $1.2 million, ahead of Walkinshaw’s nearly $888,000 and McDermott’s nearly $426,000.

Walkinshaw and McDermott have both pointed out Jayapal’s significant support from donors outside Washington state, contrasting it with their own, more heavily local mix.