Running for city council is not cheap, and candidates must accept campaign donations or fully fund their campaigns themselves. This money goes to things like website design and hosting, campaign consulting and yard signs. Washington state’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) provides detailed reports on the amount of money that each candidate has raised and top donors to each campaign.
It also lists any independent expenditures, which are made by political committees that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to support candidates as long as they do not donate that money to the candidate directly or coordinate with that candidate’s campaign. This is commonly known as “outside spending.”
Here are the top trends we have identified from analyzing each of the city council candidates’ PDC reports as of Oct. 20.
Sammamish Life PAC has spent over $15,000 on behalf of three candidates
Sammamish Life PAC is the only source of outside spending in this election so far. The organization has spent nearly $15,000 on behalf of Mayor Karen Moran, Richard Benack and Melanie Kelsey for things like literature and hiring an outside agency to do canvassing, according to their PDC filings.
According to their website, Sammamish Life is a “non-partisan, residents-led organization focused on keeping Sammamish livable for its residents.” The three top donors of the Sammamish Life PAC are Walter Pereyra, Harry Shedd and Michael Scoles.
Their money has shown up on Benack and Kelsey’s PDC reports as independent expenditures. The first expenditure was made on Oct. 12 for $5,974. A week later on Oct. 19, an additional $2,540 was dropped to support each candidate. Sammamish Life PAC sent a mailer out last week on behalf of the candidates they support that contained a strong anti-development message. However, Sammamish Life expenditures have yet to appear in Moran’s PDC report.
Josh Amato has outraised every other candidate by a lot
On average, candidates have raised anywhere from $5,000 to $13,000 through cash and in-kind contributions. But no one has come close to Josh Amato’s fundraising prowess. Amato, who is running for position 1, has raised more than $43,000 through cash and in-kind contributions, as well as through a $2,500 loan to himself. Many of the cash or in-kind contributions, however, come from cities outside of Sammamish. Out of his top 45 donors, only 10 were Sammamish residents.
Amato used to work as a spokesperson for the Washington state Republican Party. One of his top donors is Rob McKenna, a prominent GOP leader who served as Washington’s attorney general from 2005 to 2013. McKenna donated $750 to Amato’s campaign.
Amy Lam is the only candidate who is self-funding her campaign
Looking up Amy Lam’s report on PDC shows minimal information as she has selected the “mini-reporting” option. This means that the amount of money that Lam has put into her own campaign is below the amount required for public disclosure.
As stated on her website, Lam wishes for everyone who wants to donate to her campaign to give that money to Eastside Friends of Seniors instead. When asked by the Sammamish Independent, Lam said that she has put about $2,000 of her own money into her campaign.
“I received an unsolicited $100 donation from the Dems and will be giving that to Eastside Friends of Seniors,” Lam said.
Lam, a professional designer, said she designed her yard signs, flyers and website herself.
Lam is running for position 1 against Josh Amato, who has the largest war chest. This sets up the ultimate test of whether money helps to win a city council election.
Allegiances of current council members can be tracked through donations
It is no secret that tensions at city council have run high lately. Current council members are making their divergent candidate preferences known through their donations.
Councilmember Pam Stuart decided not to run for reelection, but has gone all in supporting Nazir Harb Michel and Kali Clark by donating $1,000 each. Councilmember Kent Treen and his wife Deborah have donated $500 each to Moran, Benack and Kelsey. Councilmember Christie Malchow made an in-kind contribution of $50 each to Amato and Kelsey.
Some endorsements come with cash
A few organizations that have endorsed the candidates have also written checks. IAFF Local 2878, which is the local union for Eastside Fire and Rescue, has given $500 each to Amato, Moran, Benack and Kelsey.
The Democratic Party has endorsed Lam, Harb Michel, Clark, and Karen Howe. While Lam is not accepting donations, the other three candidates are. Groups affiliated with Democrats have donated $1,442 to Harb Michel, $1,352 to Clark, and $1,487 to Howe.
*Update (Oct. 29, 2021): The Sammamish Life PAC has dropped another $625 to support Moran, Kelsey and Benack. Sammamish Life has now spent a total of $9,139 in independent expenditures to support these three candidates. This outside spending is now showing up in Karen Moran’s PDC reports.