[BY S. SALMI]
Campaign donations to Olympia’s three city council primary races are lopsided enough that you could plausibly predict who will make it to the top-two general election.
For Position 5, Allen Miller and Lisa Parshley have far outdistanced Deborah Lee in reported donations. In Position 6, incumbent Jeannine Roe is in a tough fight with Renata Rollins, with Mike Snodgrass likely to fall to third place. And in Position 7, all three candidates have eschewed major fundraising, which should give the edge to incumbent Jim Cooper.
Position 4 is hotly contested but has only two candidates — Max Brown and Clark Gilman — so they won’t appear on the primary ballot.
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The lack of a barn-burner primary doesn’t mean you should blow off voting. A landslide victory for a candidate on August 1 could give him or her insurmountable momentum going into the general election.
When reading about each candidate’s campaign finances, don’t take the data as an infallible proxy for a good opinion poll. Sometimes an X factor such as name recognition or a better-run campaign can at least partially compensate for a candidate’s less aggressive fundraising.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the total amount of money a candidate has raised isn’t necessarily as important as how he or she got it. Paul Gillie — the late, great research director of the state Public Disclosure Commission — argued that the winning candidate usually had the largest number of small, in-district donations. This is not a fail-safe method of predicting the outcome of a race, but it is a useful metric to keep in mind. With those caveats, let’s analyze the data candidates have reported to the PDC as of Friday, July 28.
Position 5: Is it Miller time for Olympia’s power elite?
Miller and Parshley are neck and neck when it comes to the total number of dollars raised ($10,076 versus $9,667). A similar pattern holds for campaign spending, with Miller slightly ahead of Parshley ($9,745 versus $9,313).
Lee has reported no contributions to the PDC because she chose to use a “mini-reporting” option, which is available to candidates who raise under $5,000. It’s hard to see how Lee could be competitive in this race given the much higher spending of her opponents and Lee’s relative lack of endorsements.
Miller starts looking like the front runner once you drill down into the data. For one thing, Parshley’s total contributions were bolstered by a $2,100 loan, whereas Miller has put only $100 of his own money into the campaign.
More significantly, Miller has almost twice as many donors — and they span a broader base of support, from developers and capital campus insiders to environmental activists. This is a goodly portion of Olympia’s power elite. Parshley’s main advantage is with endorsements from major political action committees as well as five current and former Olympia city council members.
Miller reported 102 donors, and they gave an average of $75. He doesn’t list any donations from political action committees and his largest donations are unusually small for a major candidate — $250. In addition, more than 9 percent of Miller’s donations are from retirees, which is on the high side.
Miller donors include Steve Boone ($250), The Rants Group ($250), Gerry Reilly ($200), Gerry Alexander ($100), Bill McGregor ($100), Rhenda Strub ($100), Mark Foutch ($100), Fred Finn ($50), Sharon Foster ($75), Bob Jacobs ($50), Bonnie Jacobs ($50), Carole Richmond ($50), Ken Valz ($50), Dean Foster ($25), Kris Goddard ($25) and Sam Reed ($25).
In addition, Miller’s website lists endorsements from the Olympia Education Association, Doug Mah, Ralph Munro, Mary Selecky and Marty Brown.
In contrast, Parshley’s donor profile largely consists of individuals and groups that tend to give to “green” candidates. She reported 52 donors, and they gave an average of $116.
Donations from political action committees include the Washington Federation of State Employees 443 ($1,000), Thurston Environmental Voters ($300) and Washington Teamsters Legislative League ($250). Individual donors include Jeff Johnston ($200), Judy Bardin ($100), Walt Jorgensen ($100), E. J. Zita ($100), Tom Crawford ($50), Brendan Williams ($50) and Marco Rossi ($25).
In addition, Parshley’s website lists endorsements from the Sierra Club of the South Sound, Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council, Washington State Progressive Caucus, Beth Doglio, Jeff Gadman, Nathaniel Jones, Jessica Bateman, Clark Gilman, Julie Hankins, Jim Cooper and Joan Cathey.
Lee’s Facebook page lists endorsements from Our Revolution Thurston and the Washington State Berniecrats. This does not a revolution make.
Position 6: Is Rollins rolling Roe?
The numbers suggest that Roe could plausibly lose her re-election bid. It’s not that her fundraising looks bad — it’s that Rollins has done so well. Meanwhile, Snodgrass’s fundraising has been so weak that it is hard to see him bumping off Roe — let alone Rollins — even though he appears to be outspending both.
Rollins has raised $12,904. Even after you subtract a $2,000 loan, she still eclipses Roe’s $8,417. More importantly, Rollins has garnered twice as many donors even though Roe has the more politically mainstream constituency. That’s a remarkable achievement for a first-time candidate running against an incumbent who is not tainted by a scandal or deeply unpopular issue.
Before Rollins supporters get too excited, keep in mind that Roe’s donors have deep pockets. At the same time, Olympia’s political elite would do well to recognize that Rollins’ campaign has channeled more effectively than anyone else this year the enthusiasm of Bernie Sanders’ local supporters. Something is happening here.
In a sign that neither candidate takes Snodgrass very seriously, Rollins and Roe have both held their spending to relatively low levels ($4,523 versus $4,158), presumably to save up for the general election. Snodgrass lists $6,407 in expenditures, which doesn’t balance out with $2,203 in reported contributions. Whether the candidate will cover the difference isn’t clear from his latest PDC report.
Rollins reported 106 donors, with an average donation of $91. Contributions from political action committees include the Washington Federation of State Employees 443 ($1,000), Thurston Environmental Voters ($300), Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters ($300) and the Green Party of South Puget Sound ($100). Individual donors include Beverly Bassett ($200), Meta Hogan ($200), Jim Lazar ($200), Peter Bohmer ($125), Mindy Chambers ($50), Clark Gilman ($25) and Jeff Sowers ($15).
In addition, Rollins’ website lists endorsements from Sierra Club, South Sound, Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council, Thurston County Young Democrats, Our Revolution Thurston, Washington Berniecrats, Laurie Dolan, E. J. Zita and Matthew Green.
Roe reported 48 donations, with an average donation of $125. Contributions from political action committees include the Olympia Firefighters ($500) and the Washington State Council of County and City Employees ($500). Individual donors include Gerry Alexander ($100), Laurie Dolan ($100), Karen Fraser ($100), Kristine Goddard ($100), Doug Mah ($100), R. E. Jacobs ($100), Mark Foutch ($50), Christine Garst ($50), Sam Hunt ($50) and Ralph Munro ($50).
In addition, Roe’s website lists endorsements from the National Women’s Political Caucus, Jay Manning, Denny Heck, Beth Doglio, Fred Finn, Sandra Romero, Steve Langer, Pete Kmet, Andy Ryder, Steven Drew, Jeff Gadman, Daniel Einstein, Bob Nichols and Paul Knox.
Snodgrass reported only seven donations totaling $930. To make matters worse, only one donor — Dina Macs — is from Olympia. This is essentially a self-funded campaign that does not appear to have a base of community support. Snodgrass’s website and Facebook page do not list a single endorsement.
Position 7: A casual cookout for Cooper?
There’s not a whole lot you can say about a race where none of the three candidates have reported contributions to the PDC. Cooper and Daniel Marsh are mini-reporting, so they don’t have to report any donations.
Meanwhile, the self-described “Honorable Heather Wood” signed up for full reporting but has apparently not submitted anything to the PDC despite stating on February 21 in her Facebook page that she had received “our first $75.00 contribution today from 3 different people.” Her website has been deleted.
Cooper has been doing at least some fundraising, because his Facebook page is promoting a “Great Olympia Cookout” on August 6. More significantly, his website lists endorsements that rank with other incumbents. Cooper has been endorsed by more than a dozen groups, including Thurston Environmental Voters, Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council and Our Revolution Thurston.
Individual endorsements include Denny Heck, Sam Hunt, Beth Doglio, Laurie Dolan, E. J. Zita, Clark Gilman, Karen Valenzuela, Bob Jacobs, T. J. Johnson and Paul Berendt.
With Wood apparently out of the running, Marsh becomes the default runner-up candidate in November. What’s his base of support? Marsh’s website and Facebook page do not list endorsements . . . aside from a few comments. For example, Rod Van Mechelen responded to a July 20 Facebook post by stating, “You got my vote.” Then, on July 23 Donald Austin stated, “This post got my vote” in response to Marsh’s announced opposition to Olympia’s housing initiative.
If Marsh were to pull off an upset victory over Cooper, this would presumably reflect a conservative populist revolt turbocharged by social media.