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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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)|
|29||98092||Auburn||$202,437||84%||Muckleshoot Indian Tribe ($168,000)|
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|
|23||Christine Nasser Rolfes||$136,923||38%|
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|
|Mary Helen Roberts
|Kevin Van de Wege
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Luanne Van Werven