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New study shows outsized role of elite donors, non-Seattle donors in 2015 City Council race

Honest Elections Seattle would empower ordinary voters over elite donors
For Immediate Release

Seattle, WA – A new analysis by WashPIRG has found that just 1,589 contributors, whose individual contributions were worth $500 or more, provided more than half of the $2.5 million raised by candidates up to the August primary election. Candidates raised more than $450,000, or roughly one-fifth of all funds, from 596 non-resident donors who gave contributions worth $500 or more.

“The majority of funds raised in this election are coming from big donors writing checks larger than the average Seattleite can afford,” said Bruce Speight, WashPIRG Executive Director. “Even in Seattle, big money is drowning out ordinary voters. Honest Elections Seattle, or Initiative 122, will empower small donors and limit the influence of big money in our local elections.”

“I think every Seattle voter, specifically Latinos and other communities of color should have the opportunity to contribute and become more involved in the elections system,” said new Seattle voter, and I-122 supporter, Guillermo Zazeuta, 20 years old.

Only 18 percent of the money raised by all Seattle city council candidates leading up to the August 4 primary came from small donors giving $100 or less.  

One of those smaller dollar donors is Maria Leininger, who gave $25/each to 4 candidates running for city council this year.  She is also one of dozens of Seattlites who contributed to Yes on I-122, Honest Elections Seattle. “I donated to Honest Elections Seattle because I know that giving people more of a voice is always going to create the best outcomes."

But small dollar donors like Leininger don’t have much of a voice when 82 percent of the money raised by candidates during the 2015 primary came from contributions of more than $100. 

Among 1,589 donors giving contributions worth $500 or more, a pool of 993 Seattleites gave contributions of $500 or more. These donors represent 0.2 percent of the eligible voting population.  The vast majority of Seattleites cannot afford to make $500 contributions, and when candidates are dependent upon just 0.2% of the voters for the funding that makes their campaign viable, the system is leaving out the vast majority of voters.

In addition to direct contributions to candidates, big money interests have contributed nearly $500,000 to “independent expenditures” for city council candidates this cycle. The biggest spenders (in order) are the Chamber of Commerce (CASE), commercial real estate lobbying group NAIOP, big hotel interests, and the Washington Restaurant Association, which has opposed raising the minimum wage. 

I-122, Honest Elections Seattle, will give ordinary voters and grassroots candidates a stronger voice against big money interests by: 

 

  • Limiting corporate and wealthy interests' influence on elections by lowering contribution limits;
  • Increasing democratic participation of everyday people by enabling them to give small dollar contributions to the candidates of their choice through publicly-funded vouchers;
  • Keeping elected officials honest by closing the revolving door of top officials and their aides taking lobbying jobs immediately after leaving office and require they disclose potential conflicts of interest; and
  • Increasing transparency, accountability, and fines on rule breakers.

A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that 85 percent of Americans think the current system for funding campaigns needs ‘fundamental changes’ or that ‘we need to totally rebuild it.’

"Nationally, big money interests spend record amounts to control our elections," says Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA). "The result? Candidates spend less and less time talking to actual voters. When big money interests dominate politics, it drowns out people’s voices. Strong campaign finance laws allow candidates to spend more time on the issues that matter to us most – instead of those that matter to their wealthy donors."

“Democracy works best when candidates are focused on their constituents rather than elite class of donors,” concluded Speight. “A small donor program like the one in I-122 would put democracy back in the hands of ordinary people.”

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WashPIRG is a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization. www.washpirg.org.

This report is paid for by Honest Elections Seattle, PO Box 20664, Seattle, WA 98102.  

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