Who's Buying the Municipal Elections? Part II
Ahead of the Spokane municipal Primary Election this August Nadine Woodward's campaign for Spokane Mayor had raised $182,000 in amounts of $1000 or less (the legal limit), $8,000 less than Ben Stuckart's campaign. Then WA Realtors PAC (WA RPAC) stepped in with "independent expenditures" of $93,600 on Ms Woodward's behalf.
Amid the media coverage (and my attention) to WA RPAC's money, another $60,000 of "independent expenditure" on Nadine Woodward and $20,000 on Cindy Wendle's campaign for Spokane City Council President went mostly unnoticed. Read on.
If you believe large amounts of corporate and private money are a corrupting influence in politics, what follows may make you angry, even more so if you thought that such money only weighed into politics around national elections.
$50,620.72 of that additional $60,000 spent on behalf of Nadine Woodward came from the Spokane Good Governance Alliance PAC. The other $9,000 came from Concerned Taxpayers of WA State PAC. (The "Concerned Taxpayers" also provided the $20,000 in support of Cindy Wendle.)
Stop for a minute and consider what frame these names are supposed to light up in the mind when one bothers to pay attention to the legally required disclosure that appears on campaign fliers and on line ads. Spokane Good Governance Alliance and Concerned Taxpayers of WA State must be large groups of concerned regular citizens, interested people banded together to improve our governance, right? Well, maybe not.
Before the Primary on August 6, Spokane Good Governance Alliance, 2019, had precisely eight contributors: $55,000 from Fritz and Katie Wolff of The Wolfe Company, $25,000 from RA Pearson Co., $15,000 from Worthy Hotels, Inc,, and $10,000 from Inland NW AGC (Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors).
A more apt name for the Spokane Good Governance Alliance might be the "Wealthy Real Estate Developers Alliance," but that wouldn't look good on the disclosure forms. These are people who apparently aren't satisfied with private sector ownership of large tracts of real estate. They want the voters of Spokane to elect a compliant, developer-friendly slate of candidates to Spokane City government to smooth the way for the most profitable projects.
I would have no problem if these people (and they are people, not just some "company" as if a company had a mind of its own) if these people wanted to use their money (Citizens United: money = speech) in a completely open fashion. For example, Walt Worthy or Fritz Wolfe might appear in a television ad and say "I endorse Nadine Woodward for these reasons." Instead, they establish PACs with benign names to disguise their support and avoid question of their motivation.
Equally gut-churning are two other facts: 1) If you click on the company names three paragraphs above and look over the websites you will quickly realize the money wielded by these two deceitfully-named PACs derives from company interests that lie well beyond Spokane. These are not just local presences. 2) If you explore the Public Disclosure filings in detail you will also see that nearly all of these "independent expenditures" were made to companies that have no relationship to Spokane, companies with addresses in Alexandria, Virginia or Phoenix, Arizona. Only a tiny percentage of the money was spent in Spokane on Spokane businesses. Taken together these facts impart to me a sense of violation, of a takeover by far flung monied interests.
There was recently a flap in the national newssuggesting that exposing the names of donors was “shameful and dangerous," an example of “targeting and harassing Americans because of their political beliefs.” Mega-donors hiding in the shadows of the PDC database behind deceitful names need exposure, especially when they wield large sums of money to sway local elections.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. The money behind Concerned Taxpayers of WA State PAC, (the main supplier of "independent expenditure" in support of Cindy Wendle and tertiary support for Ms. Woodward) is a similar story. Of the current $91,500 of contributions to the PAC from a grand total of nine "concerned taxpayers," $70,000 came from Steve Gordon of Lake Tapps, WA. Only $2,500 comes from Spokane, specifically "Build East PAC." Expenditures by the Concerned Taxpayers were made primarily in Seattle and Gig Harbor, WA.
P.P.S. Note that all of what is covered here is NOT "Dark Money," at least not in the sense of Jane Mayer's exposé of Koch donor group money the origins of which are hidden in a huge network of "think tanks" (including the Washington Policy Center). Instead, what is covered here is, thanks to campaign finance regulations, publicly available information. It's not "dark," it just takes time to dig it out.