Read next: Following the Money in Washington State Elections, Part 1

Washingtonians know that big money plays a big role in politics, but they may not know exactly where the money comes from in state legislative races. In the previous article in this series, we showed that special interests dominate campaign funding in Washington State. In this article, we follow the geographic money trail and find that campaign money comes mostly from Olympia and Seattle. Legislators are supposed to represent their local districts, but they are currently relying overwhelmingly on big donors in these western Washington cities to fund their campaigns.

Most money comes from Seattle and Olympia

Washington legislators come from 49 districts across the state and represent Washingtonians from Lynden to Walla Walla. Yet over 44 percent of the money funding successful 2012 and 2014 legislative races came from just 30—out of 732—Washington zip codes. These 30 zip codes are home to fewer than 9 percent of Washingtonians.

All of these top-giving zip codes are located in western Washington. Specifically, donors in certain parts of Seattle and Olympia give a disproportionate share of contributions to state legislative candidates. One-third of all state campaign contributions to winning legislative candidates came from just 21 zip codes in these two cities alone, which together account for less than 5 percent of the state’s population. Legislators are supposed to represent everyday people in their own districts, but the road to the state capitol leads primarily through Seattle and Olympia. The maps below suggests that candidates may spend less time talking to their own constituents than they do asking for support from those with the deepest pockets, including corporations, PACs, and parties with offices in Olympia and Seattle.

The maps below track all campaign contributions from each zip code in Washington to winners in all 2012 and 2014 state legislative campaigns. Donors in the darkest green zip codes collectively contributed $500,000 or more to winning legislative campaigns, but donors in the lightest green zips contributed $50,000 or less. Though zip code populations vary widely, the map makes clear that the bulk of campaign dollars come from a few patches of the Puget Sound region. Orange outlines highlight the 30 zip codes from which the most dollars originated, including zip codes that only contain PO Boxes (indicated with an orange circle). The light pink areas of the map had no contributions. 

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On average, PACs and corporations, not individuals, account for two-thirds of the donations made in these top 30 zip codes.

On average, PACs and corporations, not individuals, account for two-thirds of the donations made in these top 30 zip codes. For example, 95 percent of the more than $2 million in contributions from the state’s most giving zip code—98501 in Olympia—came from organizations, including the Washington Restaurant Association ($251,000) and Washington Health Care Association ($249,000). Organizations such as Premera Blue Cross ($269,000) and Puget Sound Pilots ($120,000) contributed 99 percent of the more than $700,000 from 98111—one of Seattle’s top-giving zip codes. (Appendix 1, below, lists the highest-contributing 30 zip codes, how much money per capita each contributed, and the highest donating PACs or corporations located there.)

Because under the current system, winning candidates must rely on PACs and corporations for nearly two-thirds of their campaign contributions, and because those organizations’ offices tend to be near the state capitol in Olympia or in downtown Bellevue or Seattle, candidates devote much of their fundraising time to talking with big donors in the dark green and orange-outlined zip codes, leaving less time to talk to their own constituents.

If Washington voters approve the Washington Government Accountability Act, Initiative 1464 on the November ballot, this pattern might change dramatically. The initiative would give each registered voter Democracy Credits worth $150 to donate to candidates they support, making every voter a potential donor and giving candidates a viable path to victory through their own constituents instead of through wealthy donors in Seattle and Olympia. Democracy Credits could let candidates spend more time talking with voters and less time talking with PACs.

Most candidates raised very little money from inside their own district

As we’ve mentioned, raising money and winning over voters are currently two separate activities for candidates. The data bear this out: the maps below show what percentage of campaign contributions successful senate (first map) and house (second map) candidates raised from within their own districts. If candidates were combining campaigning and fundraising, they would be spending most of their time in their own districts talking to residents and local businesses and organizations, asking for support. The maps would show more campaign funding coming from within candidates’ districts. Instead, the maps show not a single legislative district—for house or senate—where a winning candidate in either of the last two election cycles raised even 41 percent of his or her money from within his or her own district. Most successful candidates raise less than 20 percent of their money from within their districts.

Over the last two legislative cycles only two Washington state senators—Jamie Pederson (District 43, Seattle) and Christine Nasser Rolfes (District 23, Kitsap Peninsula) (darkest green districts in map below)—raised even 30 percent of total campaign funds from in-district donors. Meanwhile, 24 senators—or nearly half of the senate—relied on out-of-district donors for 90 percent or more of their campaigns’ funding (lightest green districts in map below). On average, senate winners raised 13 percent of their funds from in-district donors. (Appendix 2, below, lists all senate winners from 2012 and 2014 and the percent of campaign contributions they raised from within their districts.)

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The story is similar in the state house. On average, successful candidates for the house raised just 15 percent of their funds from in-district donors. In only three districts (darkest green on the map below) did winning house members raise an average of 30 percent or more of their campaign funds from in-district donors: the 12th District, East Wenatchee, the 13th district, Ellensburg, and the 14th District, Yakima. On the other hand, average winning candidates in 19 districts—over a third of the house—depended on distant donors for 90 percent or more of their contributions (lightest green districts in the map below). (Appendix 3, below, lists all house winners from 2012 and 2014 and the percent of campaign contributions they raised from within district.)

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I-1464 could empower winners to raise 70 percent of their campaign funds from regular people.
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These maps suggest that successful legislative candidates may spend an awful lot of their time raising money from far away PACs and donors rather than connecting with voters close to home. I-1464’s Democracy Credits could change that. If each of the roughly 90,000 registered voters in each legislative district had $150 in Democracy Credits to contribute to a candidate of their choice, candidates from every district would have equal opportunity to fundraise from their own constituents, rather than relying on a handful of wealthy organizations and donors in a small slice of the state. A candidate for state house could win by staying close to home, attending house parties and community events, reaching out to 1,000 voters to ask for their votes and their Credits. I-1464 could radically transform these maps, empowering winners to switch from raising a pittance from in-district donors to winning by raising 70 percent of their campaign funds from regular people.  

Time for a new money trail

The money trail in Washington state legislative elections leads to big donors in Seattle and Olympia. I-1464 could change that by giving candidates plenty of fundraising opportunities among voters in their own districts. If a candidate can spend her time talking with her own constituents, letting people know her views on state policies, listening to voters’ concerns, and asking for voters’ Democracy Credits, she could focus all of her attention—both her fundraising and vote-gathering efforts—on everyday people in her own district. Fundraising close to home would build relationships with her own constituents, make her more accountable to residents of her district, and keep her focus on them and their concerns even when she is serving in Olympia.

Notes about Methodology

Regarding the maps showing total dollars per zip code:

  • Washington zip codes have differing population sizes from 0 to 68,000. More populous zip codes might have more total campaign contributions, and analyzing contributions per capita might give a more accurate picture. We tried that, but because Washington campaign contributions are driven heavily by organizational contributions rather than individual giving, dividing contributions by individuals showed a distorted picture. We opted instead to show total contributions by zip code, which gives a relatively accurate picture of the geographic distribution of campaign contributions.

Regarding the maps showing percentage of in-district donations by legislative district:

  • Campaign contribution data only include originating zip codes, not exact addresses. Zip code boundaries don’t correspond with legislative district boundaries, so we could not make an exact translation from zip codes to legislative districts. As an approximation, we attributed all of a zip code’s contributions to the legislative district containing the zip code’s center. This may have incorrectly attributed some donations given from a portion of a zip code located in an adjoining district. However, because such a small percentage of donations come from within districts anyway, we believe misaligned zip codes would not change in-district giving numbers by more than a percentage point or two.
  • The senate districts maps show in-district contributions to the one senator who won a four-year term in 2012 or in 2014.
  • Mike Carrell was elected in 2012 to represent senate district 28, but then died suddenly in 2013. Steve O’Ban then won the seat in a very expensive 2014 special election. Rather than include both elections for the same seat and artificially increase the fundraising picture for senate district 28, we only used senator Mike Carrell’s fundraising totals.
  • The house district map shows average in-district contributions to the winners in four races in that district: post (a) and post (b) in 2012 and in 2014. In some cases, the same candidate won the same seat in both 2012 and 2014. To calculate the average percent of in-district contributions, we added all in-district campaign contributions to all four winners and divided by all campaign contributions to all four winners.

Appendix 1

Top 30 Washington state zip codes with highest total contributions to winning candidates

Rank Zip Code Primary City Total money given to winning candidates % of total money given to candidates from this zip that came from orgs Highest  donating PACs or Corps in the zip code
1 98501 Olympia $2,019,252 95% Washington Restaurant Assoc. ($249,000);
Washington Health Care Assoc. ($247,000)
2 98507 Olympia $1,481,472 55% Building Industry Assoc. of Washington ($173,000);
Optometric Physicians of Washington ($155,000);
Washington Assoc. of Realtors ($146,000)
3 98109 Seattle $1,235,787 27% Pemco Mutual Insurance ($116,000)
4 98005 Bellevue $814,020 28% Washington Society of CPAS ($121,000)
5 98101 Seattle $779,319 87% Washington State Assoc. for Justice ($189,000);
Washington Bankers Assoc. ($168,000)
6 98111 Seattle $707,104 99% Premera Blue Cross ($268,000);
Puget Sound Pilots ($120,000)
7 98004 Bellevue $653,095 20% Washington Engineers PAC (WEPAC) ($32,000)
8 98508 Olympia $589,797 7% The Leadership Council ($24,000);
9 98119 Seattle $474,419 86% Washington State Hospital Assoc. ($190,000);
Holland America Cruise Line ($108,000)
10 98104 Seattle $453,396 70% Broadband Communications Assoc. of Washington ($74,250)
11 98188 Tukwila $450,015 84% Northwest Credit Union Assoc. ($130,000);
Washington State Auto Dealers Assoc. ($122,000)
12 98121 Seattle $430,759 83% Washington State Medical Assoc. ($157,000)
13 98003 Federal Way $397,040 94% Northwest Credit Union Assoc. ($167,000)
14 98194 Seattle $385,361 9% Seattle Mariners ($36,000)
15 98063 Federal Way $378,077 99% Washington Education Assoc. ($181,000);
Weyerhaeuser Co. ($139,000)
16 98107 Seattle $336,839 90% Washington State Dental Assoc. ($291,000)
17 98168 Tukwila $327,194 90% Sabey Corp. ($110,300)
18 98512 Olympia $323,543 95% Washington Beverage Assoc. ($206,600)
19 98401 Tacoma $284,096 85% Washington Beer & Wine Distributors Assoc. ($166,000)
20 98103 Seattle $282,147 68% Service Employees Local 925 ($52,000)
21 98102 Seattle $266,033 67% Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Assoc. ($93,000)
22 98040 Mercer Island $255,508 2% United Healthcare Services ($2,000)
23 98175 Seattle $238,200 100% Delta Dental ($216,000)
24 98502 Olympia $223,663 51% Washington Independent Telephone Assoc. ($25,000)
25 98009 Bellevue $218,463 81% Puget Sound Energy ($166,000)
26 98584 Shelton $217,993 53% Green Diamond Resource Co. ($70,000)
27 98033 Kirkland $213,206 26% Southern Wine and Spirits ($17,000)
28 98052 Redmond $207,513 67% AT&T ($69,000);
Microsoft ($60,000)
29 98092 Auburn $202,437 84% Muckleshoot Indian Tribe ($168,000)
30 98124 Seattle $187,832 99% BECU ($58,000)

Appendix 2

Winning senate candidates raised, on average, 13 percent of their funds from in-district donors

Legislative District Senator Total Campaign Contributions Percent of Total Contributions from In-district Donations
1 Rosemary McAuliffe $198,411 11%
2 Randi Becker $260,851 10%
3 Andrew Billig $200,841 15%
4 Mike Padden $165,172 17%
5 Mark Mullet $351,609 29%
6 Michael Baumgartner $500,098 17%
7 Brian Dansel $94,752 9%
8 Sharon Brown $123,007 12%
9 Mark Schoesler $188,855 5%
10 Barbara Bailey $429,455 24%
11 Bob Hasegawa $104,286 16%
12 Linda Evans-Parlette $173,843 13%
13 Judy Warnick $139,049 7%
14 Curtis King $181,134 19%
15 Jim Honeyford $152,561 9%
16 Michael Hewitt $266,675 3%
17 Donald Benton $477,473 7%
18 Anna Rivers $170,385 3%
19 Brian Hatfield $179,364 8%
20 John Braun $116,816 4%
21 Marko Liias $212,299 9%
22 Karen Fraser $78,122 12%
23 Christine Nasser Rolfes $136,923 38%
24 James Hargrove $102,333 5%
25 Bruce Dammeier $276,468 10%
26 Jan Angel $275,594 11%
27 Jeannie Darneille $259,468 26%
28 Michael Carrell $195,541 14%
29 Steve Conway $133,445 7%
30 Mark Miloscia $418,831 7%
31 Pam Roach $261,725 17%
32 Maralyn Chase $65,242 4%
33 Karen Keiser-Smith $152,221 9%
34 Sharon Nelson $215,193 6%
35 Tim Sheldon $488,781 21%
36 Jeanne Kohl-Welles $146,143 22%
37 Pramila Jayapal $310,963 19%
38 John McCoy $89,669 6%
39 Kirk Pearson $113,279 17%
40 Kevin Ranker $195,970 28%
41 Stephen Litzow $486,006 27%
42 Doug Ericksen $524,368 7%
43 Jamie Pedersen $125,913 31%
44 Steven Hobbs $438,826 3%
45 Andy Hill $1,035,257 10%
46 Dave Frockt $299,523 14%
47 Joe Fain $426,138 5%
48 Cyrus Habib $319,492 10%
49 Annette Cleveland $124,389 13%

Appendix 3

Winning house candidates raised, on average 15 percent of their funds from in-district donors

Legislative District Assembly Winners Total Campaign Contributions Percent of Total Contributions from In-district Donations
1a
1b
Derek Stanford
Luis Moscoso
$352,535 10%
2a

2b

Gary Alexander
Graham Hunt
James Wilcox
$656,659 5%
3a
3b
Marcus Riccelli
Timm Ormsby
$395,935 18%
4a

4b

Larry Crouse
Bob McCaslin
Matt Shea
$264,690 28%
5a
5b
Jay Rodne
Chad Magendanz
$334,839 9%
6a
6b
Kevin Parker
Jeffrey Holy
$500,503 21%
7a
7b
Shelly Short
Joel Kretz
$425,660 5%
8a
8b
Bradley Klippert
Larry Haler
$199,202 10%
9a
9b
Susan Fagan
Joe Schmick
$347,130 16%
10a
10b
Norma Smith
David Hayes
$369,076 23%
11a
11b
Zack Hudgins
Steve Bergquist
$257,718 18%
12a
12b
Cary Condotta
Brad Hawkins
$238,963 41%
13a

13b

Judy Warnick
Tom Dent
Matt Manweller
$332,264 32%
14a
14b
Norm Johnson
Charles Ross
Gina McCabe
$331,295 40%
15a
15b
Bruce Chandler
David Taylor
$218,782 6%
16a
16b
Maureen Walsh
Terry Nealey
$278,265 6%
17a

17b

Monica Stonier
Lynda Wilson
Paul Harris
$694,067 10%
18a
18b
Brandon Vick
Liz Pike
$294,112 9%
19a
19b
Dean Takko
Brian Blake
$268,972 24%
20a
20b
Richard Debolt
Ed Orcutt
$465,109 7%
21a

21b

Mary Helen Roberts
Strom Peterson
Marko Liias
Lillian Ortiz-Self
$268,253 19%
22a
22b
Chris Reykadl
Samuel Hunt
$279,831 9%
23a
23b
Sherry Appleton
Drew Hansen
$523,214 17%
24a
24b
Kevin Van de Wege
Steve Tharinger
$292,765 9%
25a

  • 25b

    Dawn Morrell
    Melanie Stambaugh
    Hans Zeiger
    $729,126 12%
    26a

    26b

    Jan Angel
    Jesse Young
    Larry Seaquist
    Michelle Caldier
    $811,263 15%
    27a
    27b
    Laurie Jinkins
    Jake Fey
    $483,973 26%
    28a

    28b

    Steve O’ban
    Dick Muri
    Tami Green
    Christine Kilduff
    $710,076 11%
    29a
    29b
    David Sawyer
    Steven Kirby
    $346,938 6%
    30a
    30b
    Linda Kochmar
    Roger Freeman
    $466,869 12%
    31a

    31b

    Cathy Dahlquist
    Drew Stokesbary
    Chris Hurst
    $744,706 23%
    32a
    32b
    Cindy Ryu
    Ruth Kagi
    $278,047 5%
    33a
    33b
    Tina Orwall
    David Upthegrove
    Mia Gregerson
    $245,808 14%
    34a
    34b
    Eileen Cody
    Joe Fitzgibbon
    $152,507 5%
    35a

    35b

    Kathy Haigh
    Dan Griffey
    Drew MacEwen
    $777,384 19%
    36a
    36b
    Reuven Carlyle
    Gael Tarleton
    $487,425 16%
    37a
    37b
    Sharon Santos
    Eric Pettigrew
    $327,424 6%
    38a

    38b

    John McCoy
    June Robinson
    Michael Sells
    $215,714 15%
    39a
    39b
    Daniel Kristiansen
    Elizabeth Scott
    $469,510 12%
    40a
    40b
    Kristin Lytton
    Jeff Morris
    $282,190 13%
    41a

    41b

    Marcie Maxwell
    Tana Senn
    Judith Clibborn
    $484,574 15%
    42a

    42b

    Jason Overstreet
    Luanne Van Werven
    Vincent Buys
    $372,886 28%
    43a

    43b

    Jamie Pedersen
    Brady Walkinshaw
    Frank Chopp
    $734,315 23%
    44a
    44b
    Hans Dunshee
    Mike Hope
    Mark Harmsowrth
    $711,921 5%
    45a
    45b
    Roger Goodman
    Lawrence Springer
    $897,138 6%
    46a
    46b
    Gerry Pollet
    Jessyn Farrell
    $353,291 27%
    47a
    47b
    Mark Hargrove
    Pat Sullivan
    $666,110 8%
    48a
    48b
    Ross Hunter
    Cyrus Habib
    Joan McBride
    $857,687 19%
    49a
    49b
    Sharon Wylie
    Jim Moeller
    $485,927 14%