Money Talking in the Spokane Primary
WA State Realtors Are Trying to Buy the City Election--Again
Spokane must be special. The Washington Realtors Political Action Committee (WaRPAC) is weighing in with independent expenditures in favor only three candidates in this year’s primary races in the State of Washington—and two of those three races are in Spokane. As Adam Shanks writes in his Spokesman article “It’s 2019 all over again.”
It’s not chump change, either.
Realtors have contributed more than $53,000 to [Jonathan] Bingle in District 1 (NE Spokane] and $49,000 to [Mike] Lish in District 3 [NW Spokane] from two sources, the Washington Realtors PAC and the National Association of Realtors Fund.
For perspective, fifty thousand nearly doubles the direct contributions each of these two candidates have reported to the Public Disclosure Commission. The Realtors “independent expenditures” are perfectly legal as long as they are reported to the PDC and the spending is done without “coordination” with the candidates’ campaigns. (On a federal level this represents the huge loophole blown into campaign finance law by Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and Citizens United v. FEC (2010) on the grounds of First Amendment rights and money as a form of speech.) There is no contribution limit to “independent expenditure” PACs, whereas there are limits to legal direct contributions to candidates (both at the federal and Washington State level). Big money, big voice. So much for the voice of the average citizen.
A candidate like Mike Lish (NW Spokane), with only $21,700 in individual contributions, can, by saying the right words, attract special interest spending that dwarfs the monetary voice of individual contributors. Both of Lish’s opponents have exceeded his individual contributions [Lu Hill ($36,087.24) and Zack Zappone ($24,212.09)]. The Realtor’s candidates Lish and Bingle, by hewing to the Realtor’s libertarian line dissing urban growth boundaries and the city’s Centers and Corridors plan, more than double their money in Realtor “independent” support. I urge you to visit pdc.wa.gov and explore [Here’s the click pattern: all campaigns / election year 2021, MUNICIPAL / CITY OF SPOKANE / CITY COUNCIL MEMBER, CITY OF SPOKANE; then click candidate names and the CONTRIBUTIONS tab for the candidate.]
Why is Spokane in the crosshairs of the Realtors PACs? A Spokane politico controls the Realtor’s monetary spigot. Tom Hormel is not only the president of the statewide Washington Realtors but also a member of the Washington Realtors Political Action Committee’s legislative steering committee. The Spokesman article notes that “Spokane Association of Realtors’ members make the decision on who [sic] to support.” Do the assembled members of the Spokane Association of Realtors take a vote? More likely the decisions are made by a committee of politically interested realtors and developers who have been chaffing at the City of Spokane’s urban growth boundaries, political types who see an opportunity to steer the Council in their favor. The check box for $35 as a Realtors PAC contribution on the annual Washington Realtors’ membership renewal provides the funds. Most realtors in the state likely pay minimal attention to the exact use to which their money is put.
Building tract housing on open land (i.e. “urban sprawl”) is far easier and more profitable than building infill housing under the Centers and Corridors Plan. From a let’s-make-lots-of-money-quickly perspective, trashing Centers and Corridors is the way to go. In the Realtors vision the main streets in Spokane need to be publicly funded high speed thoroughfares to funnel tract house suburbanites to their jobs in town. Walkable cities and local shopping opportunities accessible on public transportation? Not so much.
The National Association of Realtors’ Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC) is clear on what it stands for:
The REALTORS® Political Action Committee and other political fundraising are the keys to protecting and promoting the real estate industry.
The interests of RPAC do not include supporting policies for comfortable, walkable, attractive, sustainable cities. Their mission is to promote maximal profits. The national RPAC is consistently the largest contributor to political candidates at the federal level. (For reference, the National Rifle Association isn’t even in the top ten.)
Tom Hormel’s efforts as President of the Washington Realtors and a member of the WA RPAC steering commitment bring realtor money from all over Washington State and focus that money on the City of Spokane City Council races. Bear that in mind when you vote. Cruise through the Public Disclosure Commission’s “Independent Expenditures” tab on the various candidates to see who agrees with the Realtors’ vision of progress—then vote for Lu Hill or Zack Zappone in the NW or Riley Smith or Naghmana Sherazi in the NE.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. This is not Tom Hormel’s WA Realtors’ PAC’s first attempt at buying a City of Spokane election. In 2019 WA RPAC broke records in independent expenditures in favor of four candidates, Woodward, Wendle, Cathcart, and Rathbun. That met with only 50% success (Nadine Woodward was elected Mayor and Michael Cathcart represents NE Spokane on the Council.) Apparently, 50% success from spending member money was good enough for Mr. Hormel to try again.