The tangled path of money with Moms for Seattle
Money is flowing in the Seattle City Council races. But where’s it being spent, and who’s spending it? Sometimes the answers are tough to find.
One group that's raising a lot of money is Moms for Seattle, which has a Facebook page and has registered as an independent expenditure committee. The Stranger's Rich Smith told KUOW’s Angela King about the money trail.
Angela King: Is Moms for Seattle what the name implies -- a group of moms?
Rich Smith: I would love to know the answer to that question. They say that they're a group of four moms who are just concerned about some of the challenges facing Seattle, particularly surrounding the homelessness crisis. But when you look into the consultants they've hired to shape their message, the people donating to the PAC and the consultants their consultants have hired, it becomes less clear whether or not these are really moms for Seattle.
King: What do we know about the money they've raised?
Rich Smith: In a very short period of time they've raised over $180,000.
Their top dollar donor is a woman who is a charter school booster from Bellevue. So not exactly from Seattle.
They've also hired to shape their message consultants named Clear Path consultants. This is a new consulting agency that started up last December just in time for the City Council races.
They're staffed by a number of longtime Seattle lobbyists and politicos who lobby for developers, big business interests.
And then those consultants hired other consultants to do their digital work and the direct mail pieces and Facebook ads. That consultants group is called Western Consultants and we don't know anything about them or we don't know much.
King: How transparent are these PACs?
Smith: Seattle and Washington actually have pretty strict elections transparency laws and they're pretty open. We're used to knowing a lot about who the people are who are trying to influence elections. But the weird thing about this is the subcontractor is opaque.
The company’s registered in Nevada but we had to ask them to figure out where the company was based. They've left an address on their disclosure forms but it's a P.O. box in Seattle.
King: What are the concerns when you can't find out this type of information?
Smith: Moms for Seattle is an independent expenditure committee; it's a PAC.
They have less restrictions on how much money they can spend to influence the election than the candidates themselves.
A candidate who's participating in a Democracy Voucher program might be able to raise $75,000 for the primary, $75,000 for the general.
The independent spenders can raise and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on whoever they want. And so the concern is they can do that so long as they're not coordinating with any of the campaigns.
If we don't know who's raising and spending this money, then the concern is that they're coordinating with the campaign.
King: But at this point we don't know that for sure.
Smith: No – but mostly because they're not picking up the phone.
Editor's note: Since this interview was recorded, Rich Smith has learned the names of four women in this group. KUOW has confirmed those names.
Correction: In the broadcast version of this interview, the amount of money given by the largest donor to Moms for Seattle was misstated.