Realtors & Developers
A fat thumb on the campaign finance scale
First : Ballots for the November 2 election should arrive in your mailbox as soon as this weekend. The Progressive Voters Guide for Washington is available by clicking that link. This off-off year general election is exclusively for local offices (except for Tim Eyman’s publicly-funded political state wide “Advisory Votes”). As a result, for those who follow mostly national a state sources, news coverage of the races can be sketchy. The Progressive Votes Guide provides reasoned analysis (even on the “Advisory Votes”!) broken down by city council and school board elections.
The realtors and developers are at it again, this time in the current Spokane municipal elections—but this time with less media coverage.
In 2019 a firehose of “independent expenditure” money totaling more than a million dollars was directed at municipal elections, breaking the record for independent Political Action Committee spending in Spokane municipal elections by a factor of at least five. Of course, in 2019 both the Spokane Mayor’s and City Council President’s seats as well as those of several City Council seats were in contention. Nearly all of the money was traceable to realtors, developers, and builders. In 2019 there were a number of local newspaper articles detailing this attempt to buy local government.
This year realtor and developer money from these independent PACs is still eye popping, but these elections—and these expenditures—are much less covered. Adam Shanks wrote an article in the July 22, 2021, Spokesman about the realtors weighing in on the August primary election—and that’s all I can find so far.
Spokane’s City Council six person City Council is elected two each from three districts, essentially NE, South Hill, and NW. (See map.) Betsy Wilkerson is now running unopposed in District 2 (South Hill) after Tyler LeMasters failed the residency requirements (so much for “law-abiding” Republicans). (It is still important to pay attention, fill in the circle, and cast you ballot if you’re in District 2.)
The realtors and developers have weighed in massively on the other two races, Districts 1 (NE) and 3 (NW)—which should be a red flag. All four candidates on the ballot in those districts, Naghmana Sherazi and Jonathan Bingle in District 1 (NE) and Zack Zappone and Michael Lish in District 3 (NW) are currently reporting to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC.wa.gov) having raised similar amounts in campaign funds, between $69,074 (Bingle) and $87,000 (Sherazi). That’s what is displayed on the PDC’s website. Click deeper, though, and one finds a realtor/developer fat thumb on the scales. The National Association of Realtors Fund, Washington Realtors Political Action Committee, and Spokane Good Governance Alliance (all realtor and developer money) have added, in “independent” expenditures, $105,000 to support Bingle and $154,000 to support Lish, dwarfing the money sent by all other contributors to the campaign of any of the four candidates.
“Independent” expenditures reported to the PDC for Sherazi or Zappone? Less than $2000 each.
The money in the realtor PACs is amassed from scads of $35 donations from members and a few larger donations, but this firehose of money is directed by realtor/political operatives like the Spokane area’s Tom Hormel. (Who’s website name, “tomscastles.com”, offers some idea of his lean toward the high end of the housing market. Low income or affordable housing is rarely conceived of as a “castle”)
“Independent” is relative—and depends mostly on self-policing. Who will be able prove there was a commitment verbally in a hallway made to, for example, buy TV commercials, a quiet commitment that would amount to coordination?
Years ago I was fed the idea that when it came to politics and political campaigns PACs and corporations tended to sprinkle money among viable candidates so as to have the ear of whomever ultimately won. That is not what is happening here. The Tom Hormels directing small donation PAC money and the big money developers are playing the long game. They ultimately want control of the levers of Spokane City government so they can dictate the rules that determine what they can build and where they can build it so as to maximize profit. Mini McMansions on bare tracts of farm land are far more lucrative than infill. Their fat thumb on the electoral scales should be a red flag for the voters.
Contribute money, campaign for, and vote for Zack Zappone and Naghmana Sherazi.
Keep to the high ground,