Amazon, and a cadre of Seattle area tech and business heavyweights, are key contributors to a political organization supporting Seattle mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan.
Analysis by The Stranger and technologist Jeff Reifman, confirmed by GeekWire, shows that Amazon has donated $350,000 over the last few months to a committee called Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE) that is sponsored by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. According to records from Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission, Amazon made two big contributions to CASE — $250,000 in July and another $100,000 last week.
CASE last week contributed $525,000 to a group called People for Jenny Durkan. Groups like these are similar to PACs in that there is no limit to how much donors can give the groups, whereas caps exist on individual donations directly to candidates.
Including these contributions, CASE has given $611,000 of the $846,735 the pro-Durkan organization has raised. CASE, which endorsed Durkan during the primary campaign, has spent $904,692.86 of the $1,065,258.17 it has raised.
State records indicate that Amazon’s contributions to CASE are its largest ever as a company for a local race. Before this election cycle, the most Amazon had ever given, PDC records show, was $100,000 to Mass Transit Now, a group that campaigned in favor of the Sound Transit 3 light rail package during the 2016 election.
Amazon’s deeper involvement in Seattle politics comes as the company looks to expand to a second North American headquarters. Local officials seemed to be taken by surprise by the major “HQ2” announcement last month and have since tried to renew their relationship with the retail giant.
These contributions give a glimpse into how the Seattle mayoral’s race is shaping up after the candidates made it through a crowded primary in the fallout of the resignation of Mayor Ed Murray earlier this year. Durkan, a former U.S. Attorney, was the big winner in the primary, taking approximately 28 percent of the vote in the 21-candidate race, 10 percentage points higher than second place finisher Cary Moon. Moon made her political name opposing the project that would become the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel through downtown Seattle.
We’ve reached out to Amazon and CASE to learn more about their campaign contributions. We will update this post if we hear back.
This is left-leaning Seattle, so the race isn’t a matchup of liberal versus conservative. Both Durkan and Moon call themselves progressives and are running on similar platforms focused on affordable housing, criminal justice reform and solving homelessness issues. The two candidates have been working to differentiate themselves during recent debates.
Neither candidate has gone into great detail on Amazon and its effects in Seattle. Durkan, speaking this week at the Seattle Interactive Conference, delved into the threats that automation poses to jobs. She called on Amazon and other members of the Seattle tech community to start planning for the job displacement that autonomy could cause. She laid out her plan to partner with the tech industry in her new smart city agenda. If elected, Durkan says she will launch a study on the potential consequences of autonomous vehicles and eventually establish a pilot program for the new technology.
Moon has said she is willing to work with Amazon to make the city more affordable, improve transportation and educational opportunities. But, she said she doesn’t want to see Amazon pit cities and states against each other during the HQ2 bidding process and is “not interested in playing that game if Amazon isn’t serious about helping to pay for the impacts of their rapid growth on our city.”
Amazon’s two donations to CASE make up close to a third of the funds the group has raised since the beginning of the year. Amazon, however, is not the only major contributor to the committee. Paul Allen’s Vulcan has donated $108,000; CenturyLink gave $32,500; Starbucks and Comcast both contributed $25,000; Alaska Airlines has given $20,000; Expedia gave $15,000; Madrona Venture Group gave $2,000 and Seattle’s interim Mayor Tim Burgess gave $5,000 before he was chosen for the position in September.
Durkan herself has raised $822,094.66 and spent $674,414.98 of that, PDC records show. Moon has raised $278,608 and spent $258,044.67. Moon doesn’t appear to have the backing of a well-heeled committee like Durkan does and she has pumped a lot of her own money into the campaign.
CASE has contributed to other Seattle campaigns as well. The group gave $70,000 to a committee supporting Sara Nelson, owner of Fremont Brewing and a candidate running for Burgess’ vacant City Council seat who didn’t make it through the primary.