It is often typical for campaigns to talk about the strength of their grassroots efforts and sometimes it’s even true – just think about Bernie Sanders. More typical is the politician who makes it sound like he’s really depending on small-money donors and volunteers, when in fact it’s the mega-donors (think Jay Inslee and Tom Steyer) who get all the candidate’s attention.
The same can also be true about issue campaigns, as the Seattle P-I pointed out this week. Columnist Joel Connelly debunked Sound Transit’s own fundraising email by listing who is really driving the train on the $54 billion dollar campaign.
According to Connelly, “The campaign manager for the $53.8 billion, 25-year Sound Transit 3 campaign was out with a recent fundraising email, urging small donations equivalent to a round-trip fare on the promised Tacoma-to-Everett-to-Redmond light rail network. ‘Mass Transit Now is a people powered campaign and we’re about to leave the station,’” wrote the campaign.
Now with a pitch like that, what light-rail lover could resist throwing in a few bucks? But then Connelly provided some perspective.
“A look at Public Disclosure Commission filings reveals a radically different picture. The $1.9 million Sound Transit 3 campaign is powered by money from big corporations, engineering firms and construction unions which stand to benefit from a light rail plan paid for by property tax and sales tax hikes.”
That’s right, the ST3 “grassroots campaign” is really just a vehicle for some well-connected special interests to get their hands on your wallet. Just consider “a few financial facts about the campaign:
— The “Whales“: Mass Transit Now! lists five donors of $100,000 and above, topped off by Microsoft at $250,000 with Amazon.com, Expedia, Vulcan and Washington Engineers PAC each forking up donations of $100,000.
By way of comparison, the Public Disclosure Commission lists only seven donors of $100.
— Big fish: The $50-100,000 donor category includes the Laborers Union, the International Union of Operating Engineers, and the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council. There’s another $50,000 from Microsoft, along with $50,000 donations from Alaska Airlines, Costco Wholesale, WALECET (contractors), and Jacobs Engineering Group.
The Washington and Northern Idaho District Council of Laborers is in for $90,000. Again, comparing the whales and the minnows, PDC records show just 10 lowly contributions of $50.
— Other big fish: Those giving $20,000-$50,000 range from CH2M Hill Engineers ($40,000 and $20,000) to the Boeing Aerospace Machinists ($25,000) to the Seattle Mariners and Washington State Labor Council ($25,000 apiece), and Metzler Realty Advisers ($20,000).”
But even with a massive fundraising advantage, Sound Transit has been reeling this week from scandals raised by the Seattle Times and an opinion piece from State Senator Reuven Carlyle questioning ST3’s finances.
As the P-I concludes: “The big corporate interests and big labor have a big selling job in front of them over the next 78 days, albeit with a generous, obedient and compliant Seattle electorate. The ST3 package would boost the motor vehicle excise tax (by 0.8 percent); increase the property tax (25 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation) and hike the sales tax (by 0.5 percent). The benefit — 62 new miles of light rail. ‘ST3 may have an early leg up but potential opposition should not be underestimated,’ the Center for Transportation Advocacy, a nationwide pro-transit group, says in a new analysis. It warns of potential ‘tax fatigue’ and criticism that the 62 new miles of light rail are part of a ‘Seattle-centric’ transportation plan.”