Shawn Vestal: If money is talk, this election was a roar

Four people ran for Spokane City Council in this election.

On their own, under laws that limit donations to candidates, each has raised roughly the same amount of money – in the order of $ 90,000. In that sense, there was a level playing field in terms of the candidates’ ability to get their messages to people through means that cost a lot of money, like TV and digital ads and direct mail.

But in another sense, and as we’ve all seen in our mailboxes and on TV, the playing field has been warped to the point of being unrecognizable, for the second election in a row, by realtors, big business and wealthy individuals, who poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into unlimited independent spending to support two candidates, Mike Lish and Jonathan Bingle, and attack the other two, Zack Zappone and Naghmana Sherazi.

This spending monsoon by a small percentage of the city’s residents accounted for more money than all of the candidates put together.

Back in the days when political money was seen as talk, it was a never-ending bellow.

How satisfying, then, to see this big madness have limited success. In the first election results Tuesday night, Zappone – who had the bigger target on his back – led Lish, 52% to 48%.

Bingle led Sherazi, 57% to 43%.

There are still a lot of votes to count.

The massive spending in this race may not be an aberration but a new normal: a few PACs, representing relatively few people, are spending a lot, a lot more than anyone, in order to push the Tory candidates past the close of their electoral disadvantage in a city increasingly to the left.

Two years ago, those same donors helped put Nadine Woodward in the mayor’s office, but failed to get Cindy Wendle to cross the finish line against Breean Beggs as council chair. In a previous election, a similar surge in foreign spending came from the state’s Republican Party itself, which poured a lot of money into the campaign of former mayor David Condon.

Year after year, these uncontrolled spending by a small number of people becomes more important.

It’s legal, and it’s common, and it’s an insidious distortion of what an election is meant to be.

This year, the Spokane Association of Realtors, through two PACs, spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars to support candidates Lish and Bingle, and against Zappone and Sherazi. This money comes from membership fees paid by the Spokane group, and represents its 2,500 members.

There are over 144,000 registered voters in Spokane, for what it’s worth.

Then the Good Government Alliance, which played the role of the bad cop versus the good cop of real estate agents. While realtors bought ads supporting candidates, the alliance was spending a lot of money on grossly negative ads – spooky graphics and unflattering photos, ominous voiceovers, homeless photos as spooky political props. and sheriff’s cameos to smear candidates with distorted claims they want to fund the police.

This PAC raised over $ 331,000 and spent approximately $ 211,000. Its main donor was developer Larry Stone – who produced the anti-homeless film “Curing Spokane” a few years ago, calling for a new prison to be built and filled with homeless people.

Stone contributed $ 50,000. Pearson Packaging ($ 30,000), Washington Trust Bank ($ 30,000), Spokane Home Builders Association PAC ($ 22,000), PyroTek ($ 16,000), Garco Construction ($ 15,000) and Walt and Karen Worthy (15,000 $ each). Betsy Cowles, president of The Cowles Company, the parent company of Cowles Publishing Co., owner of The Spokesman-Review, contributed $ 6,000.

These groups spent a total of over $ 430,000 on two City Council races. The four nominees combined, raising one small donation at a time, raised just over $ 362,000.

It has been interesting in recent weeks to see representatives from these PACs describe their investments as humble attempts to sit down at the table, as if they were little rambling underdogs hoping to catch a crumb or two. from the adult table. This framing insults intelligence; with so much expense you also try to buy all the seats and the table.

They also pointed out that other independent expenses were made on behalf of the candidates – sometimes from PACs with addresses in Seattle. It’s also true.

Zappone, for example, received more than $ 15,000 in independent expenses on its behalf, about a third of which came from the union-backed Seattle PAC Civic Alliance for a Progressive Economy. Not a single cent of independent money was spent against his opponent, Lish.

Meanwhile, the total independent spending against Zappone and for Lish – who was primarily, but not totally, the Alliance of Realtors and Good Government – was over $ 250,000.

Sherazi has received more than $ 12,000 in independent expenses on his behalf, about a third of which is from the Civic Alliance for a Progressive Economy. Over $ 2,300 was spent on direct mail against Bingle.

The total independent expenses against her and for Bingle were over $ 228,000.

There is simply no comparison.

Money has always been a part of politics, and the unlimited spending of those for whom fifty thousand dollars is a comfortable bet is now established as an expression of their constitutional rights.

It’s all talk, we are now supposed to believe. Some people whisper, others bellow.

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