The task seemed simple: Find top political donors in Washington state.
Turns out following the money in Washington state is nearly impossible. Try sussing out how much philanthropist Tom Campion has given, for example.
Campion is an environmentalist who founded Zumiez. First I search for “Tom Campion” at the Federal Election Commission website ($140,000).
Then I search for "Sonya Campion," his wife ($213,000).
Then for "Campion Advocacy Fund," which supports liberal causes ($250,000).
And then, to be sure, "Thomas Campion," which turns up another $236,000.
Scroll down to see top donors in WA
Include money spent on local races, and it adds up to $1.04 million – that I could find – since Nov. 20, 2014. That’s when Jim Webb, the first presidential candidate, announced he was running. I chose the date to see if top donors in our state have given more to presidential candidates or to national and local issues. (Answer: Old Seattle money cares about local issues.)
“It’s so hard to follow the money,” said Lori Anderson of the Public Disclosure Commission in Olympia. “It does take someone taking a concerted effort to find all the pieces and put them together.”
It’s not that the Campions are being sneaky, but that websites tracking their money aren’t easy to use.
I reached out to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. Ian Vandewalker, counsel to the Democracy Program there, checked out Washington’s public disclosure site.
“It’s unusable,” Vandewalker said. “Somebody with not a big enough budget had to create something on a shoestring, and this is what it is.”
Washington state plans to unveil a more user-friendly site soon, Anderson said.
Some donors are happy to be flagged, Vandewalker said.
“It’s conspicuous giving for rich people – ‘I gave 10,000 last year,’” he said. “But there are others who very explicitly want to be hidden. The Koch brothers – these notorious names people find when doing some digging.”
That's what people call "dark money." Donors funnel money through nonprofits and LLCs knowing they can’t be tracked.
But tracking money is “a key ingredient in allowing voters to police candidates,” Vandewalker said. “Who they’re taking money from, to see if they’re in the pocket of somebody.”
In Washington, there are also pet issues. Paul Allen gave $2.08 million to Save Animals Facing Extinction. (It passed last fall with 77 percent of the vote.)
Below is a list of top donors from our state. I may have left some people out, perhaps because they donated under a nickname I don’t know, through a relative with a different last name or through a nonprofit.
Absent from this list are some of our state's wealthiest residents: Bill and Melinda Gates and Jeff and Mackenzie Bezos. The Bezoses tend to pick issues; in 2012, they gave $2.5 million toward legalizing same-sex marriage. More recently, they've given to obscure politicians both Republican and Democrat.
And although Bill and Melinda Gates have given generously in years past, they haven't donated to federal issues or candidates since the presidential race kicked off.
City: Mercer Island
Profession: Allen made his wealth as co-founder of Microsoft.
Causes: Save Animals Facing Extinction (roughly $2 million) and smaller checks to Democrats including Hillary Clinton.
City: Seattle (North end)
Profession: Tom Campion founded Zumiez in 1968.
Causes: Environment causes & Democrat booster
City: Hunts Point
Profession: Steve Ballmer is former CEO of Microsoft.
Causes: Gun control, charter schools
City: La Center (near Vancouver, WA)
Profession: Holland is CEO of Holland Partner Group.
Causes: 2/3 For Taxes Constitutional Amendment Initiative in Washington state
City: Shoreline (The Highlands)
Profession: Hanauer is a philanthropist and venture capitalist. His family owns Pacific Coast Feather Company, of which he is co-chairman.
Causes: Charter schools and Save Animals Facing Extinction
Profession: The Pigott family is listed number 34 on Forbes wealthiest families in America; their wealth comes from making trucks. The company was founded in 1905, when it first made railway and timber equipment.
Cause: Planned Parenthood
City: Seattle (near Carkeek Park)
Profession: Businesswoman (Garneau Properties along Aurora Avenue corridor)
Cause: Keep Seattle affordable, No on prop 1. Garneau typically supports anti-taxman Tim Eyman and opposes tax hike measures.
Profession: Chairman and co-founder of Aviation Partners, founded in 1991.
Causes: Republican National Committee
City: Seattle (Queen Anne)
Profession: Philanthropists and environmentalists
Causes: Environmental issues in particular, Democrat issues more broadly; Bernie Sanders
Profession: Keith identifies himself as both retired and self-employed but doesn't offer more specifics.
Causes: Democratic National Committee, Russ Feingold and Hillary Clinton
Profession: David Beitel is chief technology officer at Zillow.
Causes: Democratic National Convention
Profession: According to a 2012 bio, Reinhardt is “Partner, Head of Tax and Law in the CIS, Ernst & Young Moscow.”
Causes: Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton
Profession: Part of the the Green Diamond Resource Company, formerly Simpson Resource Company. The company "is privately owned by the descendants of Sol Simpson, who founded Simpson Logging Company in 1890 near Shelton, Washington. Soon after the founding of the company, Sol established a reputation for innovation in forestry."
Causes: Ron Wyden, American Forest & Paper Association, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush
Profession: Not employed
Causes: Democrats and Hillary Clinton