Who Funds Seattle’s Political Candidates, Sightline Institute, July 2015

Overwhelmingly, rich, white people who live in Seattle’s waterfront and view homes fund Seattle’s political campaigns. If enacted, Honest Elections Seattle could spread the funding of campaigns from elite neighborhoods to the whole city.

The Honest Elections Seattle Initiative would, among other things, distribute $100 of Democracy Vouchers to each registered voter in the city. Registered voters may donate their vouchers to candidates who agree to limit their spending and forgo large contributions. Democracy Vouchers would likely redraw the patterns of political giving in Seattle, just as small-donor matching grants redrew the map of political giving in New York City. This report analyzes the pattern of political contributions in the 2013 city elections to explore how Honest Elections Seattle might affect giving.

Money given by residents of the city of Seattle to 2013 candidates for mayor, city council, and city attorney came from a tiny share of the city’s residents, and those residents lived disproportionately in a few neighborhoods. These neighborhoods cross the city in a narrow belt from Magnolia to Madison Park, line Lake Washington from Laurelhurst to Seward Park, and extend along its other bodies of water. These places are parts of the city where houses are expensive and have views of mountains or water. They are places disproportionately populated by people who are rich and white.

Just 1.5 percent of adults in Seattle gave money to 2013 candidates, and most of those contributors made small donations. Two-thirds of the money came from just 1,683 contributors (0.3 percent of Seattle adults), and more than a quarter came from 0.07 percent of adults: the 391 contributors who gave $1,000 or more.

The city’s most-giving neighborhoods (dubbed “Big Money Zones” in this report) hold just 4 percent of the population, but they gave as much political money as the least-giving neighborhoods (dubbed “Micro Money Zones”) that house 64 percent of the city. Per person, the Big Money Zones gave more than 18 times as much as the Micro Money Zones.

Furthermore, the Big Money Zones are the city’s most privileged. Compared with Micro Money Zones, Big Money Zones are 31 percent whiter and 85 percent richer. Homes in Big Money Zones are two-and-a-half times pricier and four-and-a-half times more likely to have a mountain or water view.

Who Funds Seattle’s Political Candidates, Sightline Institute, July 2015

Care to comment? The report is also featured on our blog.

July 21, 2015