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Friday, October 26, 2007

$$$ And the Dollars Roll In

Well, so much for School Board elections being low-key and grassroots.

From the Times School Board updates:

"Add Costco co-founder James Sinegal to the list of major business leaders who have contributed to the campaigns of four School Board candidates: Peter Maier in District 1, Sherry Carr in District 2, Harium Martin-Morris is District 3 and Steve Sundquist in District 6.

Sinegal and his wife, Janet, gave $10,000 each to Maier and Carr, who are taking on School Board incumbents. The couple gave $5,000 each to Martin-Morris and Sundquist."

In the interest of fairness, I am for Carr and Martin-Morris but these sums are huge. It is pretty unheard of, in Board elections, for individuals to give at this high an amount. It is a lot more than any grassroots campaign can easily match.

It's democracy and it's legal so that's okay. But I doubt that many of these venture capitalists know that much about Seattle public education or that even have their own kids in public schools (not saying one of them doesn't but most don't).

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Incumbents have a distinct advantage over challengers. Perhaps that is why they gave a much larger donation to those who are challenging incumbents rather than those running for open seats.

Charlie Mas said...

Are there no contribution limits?

When elections for Supreme Court Justice positions attracted a lot of money last year, the press expressed alarm. Is no one alarmed by this big, sudden increase in campaign warchests for School Board positions?

Wouldn't $5,000 be a lot more effective if it were contributed to schools than to Martin-Morris, who is likely to win in a walk/

Anonymous said...

I see this as a positive sign that the business community is ready and willing to support change within the Seattle School District.

We need their support to improve funding of schools through legislative action.

We need their support to provide jobs for future graduates.

Anonymous said...

I think anon 8:12 is right, and am just not concerned about it.

Maybe there will be contribution limits in future races as a result of this.

There seem to be two charges here (whether actually stated or just implied): that the candidate has been bought and will capitulate to the contributor's wishes, and that the candidate can in turn buy votes to get elected.

Not much I could say to convince anyone that the former isn't true.

To the latter, though - what does it say about the intelligence of voters if they can be bought with what big money can bring? In what ways exactly are they bought - with flyers and yard signs? Really?

It doesn't cost anything to doorbell, phonebank, appear at forums and community events, which is what all of the candidates are doing - the dollars pay for flyers, mailing lists, yard signs, and maybe consultants - not exactly payola - and not even TV ads, surveys, or focus groups...

Do the lower-funded candidates feel they need a consultant to make their message attract more voters, or that they can't be more compelling to voters without more yard signs or flyers? Hard to imagine that's the case - so what exactly is this about?

And no offense against Sally, but the fact that she self-funded $25,000 in her 2003 race makes me think she knows what it takes. I know it's different than taking it from someone else because it's clear there is no obligation - real or perceived - but it's still an indication that grass roots alone aren't viable.

For anyone interested, the PDC records are a great transparent source of information about contributions.

In many cases I think the big contributors sat back to see whether there was popular support for a candidate, and whether he or she was viable. In some ways it's the support of you and me and folks like us (though we don't agree all the way down the slate) with our $25, $50 and $100 donations and word of mouth that paved the way for the bigger money.

And last - I think there ARE limits to what can be donated within the last x days before election day - though I can't remember what they are or where to find them.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I want to say that I do not believe that anyone is "buying" a Board member's vote. I believe that all these candidates have high integrity.

Anonymous said...

Sorry - when I said "there seem to be two charges here...", I meant in the general subject area of large campaign contributions, not anything that Melissa said - and really all of the thoughts in my comment are to the general topic, not to what Melissa wrote in her post.

Anonymous said...

several thoughts -

I am not comfortable with this statement:

But I doubt that many of these venture capitalists know that much about Seattle public education or that even have their own kids in public schools (not saying one of them doesn't but most don't).

I don't know that for a fact and hope that they would feel comfortable enough with our success and hoped to be uniformly great schools as a goal their kids would be in SPS. I'd also like to think that unlike most parts of the country, our monied set is a lot more populist and involved than most.

Sinegal and Costco have a horse in this race as they hire graduates - graduates they hope are prepared for the workforce. Hiring graduates of Seattle Public Schools myself I can assure you most are not prepared for the workforce in entry level positions and that's a real shame. We spend a great deal of time on remedial job skills like basic letters, deportment, arriving on time, phone manners, time keeping, organizational skills, etc. that I as a middle aged person think should be addressed a lot earlier on. "back in my day . . . "

Me, I'm THRILLED some of the big money is coming into the school board races as I see these races as more important with more long lasting effect than most other higher profile races that commonly attract the high donor set. Politics is what I do in my other life so have some sense of the money stream.

On balance, I think the $1.however many millions of Davis Wright Tremaine attorney fee and cost petition makes this look like a picnic and is far more important. I hope that we can convince them to take it as a "donation" to SPS or have them set up a scholarship fund, earmark the funds for the Alliance, or Arts or enrichment funding, or actually put in writing it goes to a Pro Bono fund and show the transparency of those dollars apparently coming out of SPS General Fund. Same for the SPS's attorneys. Perhaps Governor Locke will at some point choose to stand up and get counted. We can continue to hope.

My other hope is that the "press" writes about these contributions and all contributions from the PDC site as it is in fact, pretty transparent and has ugly filing deadlines the closer to the election day to prevent last minute unknown donors. As a rule, the press, I think does a terrible job covering school issues generally, especially the board races.

Anonymous said...

The business community cares a LOT about the quality of the graduates coming out of our schools. Business leaders have been trying to have a positive impact on education for years through initiatives like the Education Trust Fund and others. It's expensive, sure, but smart to realize that the rubber hits the road with school board and it's time to get some board members in there that can the school board like a business.

Anonymous said...

What about the fact that Mr. Maier has over 400 individual contributors - does that make up for the insinuations that he's being bought?

How many individual contributors to the others have - that would be a good number to see wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

Who has contributed, and in what amounts, are numbers you can easily find. "Ultimate Fan" has a link to the PDC in earlier post. You can see details for all of the candidates on this site.

In Steve Sundquist's blog on "Chalkboard" earlier this week he posted his numbers. He wrote he has 350 individual contributions; 150 are $50 or less; half of the 350 are $100 or less.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Peter's been putting the money to good use; he had a quarter page ad in the front section of the PI this past week and another one in this morning's Times/PI Sunday edition. But I've only seen him and not the other supported candidates with an ad.

I see this "education as a business" talk coming in. Education, like health care, is NOT a business. It needs great oversight and management to be sure but when you are talking about people's lives, it's a little more than selling widgets.

Anonymous said...

Likewise, looking at the PDC site Sherry Carr has over 400 donations, almost 100 of which are $25 or less. 3/4 of her contributions are $100 or less.

It's hard to understand how anyone could think these candidates were somehow recruited and/or paid for by big money. After talking or listening to each of them, I have seen that they each come to this race of their own volition, out of a sense of personal conviction and a devotion to the ideal of public education - nothing more, nothing less. I'm going to take the high road and believe that the big money contributors see that, and are acting out of their own personal convictions and sense of duty.

Anonymous said...

For comparison to the challengers' contribution statistics noted in previous posts, here are the incumbents' numbers:

Darlene Flynn has 118 donations, compared to 245 in 2003.

Sally Soriano has 55 donations, compared to 35 in 2003 (which didn't include her 2 personal contributions totalling $25,000).

Sally's 2007 # of donations is probably higher because one of $716 is described as proceeds of a low-cost fundraiser

Melissa Westbrook said...

I did not imply at all that I thought anyone was being "bought". What I pointed out was that it looks, from this election, that School Board elections are becoming more like regular elections with high spending donors who have no real connections to SPS (unlike smaller donors who do). That's all.

As for being recruited, Barbara Schaad-Lamphere, former School Board director, has made that clear that she and another group of individuals were looking to recruit. Whether any of the new candidates were, I don't know. It's naive to believe that it just couldn't happen.

Anonymous said...

I know Barbara Schaad Lamphere was on the school board a while ago and she has seemed like a nice and intelligent person when I've seen her here and there - and I'm probably naive about who runs things in this city - but when I heard someone else say what you're saying (about her talking about recruiting people), I thought that she just doesn't strike me as the kind of power broker who could talk someone into running for school board (or lead others to talk someone into it.)

Is that wrong?

All of the candidates in this race (including incumbents) seem pretty independent-minded and like people who would probably bristle at the assertion that someone recruited them. If she's saying that, it's seems a little patronizing and something I would ask the candidates about.

Charlie Mas said...

Being recruited to run for office is not proof that the candidate is not independently minded. It just may not have occurred to them to run until someone suggested it. Or maybe they had thought of it, but weren't sure until someone else also raised the idea.

You can be independently minded and still listen to, consider, and accept ideas from other people. If they bristle at the implication that not every idea they have is entirely their own, then I don't want them on the Board.

Anonymous said...

Now I'm curious, Charlie - when you ran, were you recruited?

It's probably semantics - counseled, asked, begged, encouraged - all sound less patronizing to me than "recruited".

About "bristling" - I think you're right in a person shouldn't care about what other people say about him or take credit for, and a self-actualized person would not care a whit if someone else took credit for his decision to run - or any other decision for that matter(i.e., "I'm the reason that director X decided to pursue changes in nutrition policy - I convinced her"), but I know I would not appreciate it if it were me.

Charlie Mas said...

I had no thoughts of running for the Board in 2001 until someone suggested it to me.

I had gone to a few Board meetings and given testimony. Chris Jackins, a man who goes to a lot of Board meetings, suggested to me that I run. I was flattered, but I think I laughed at the idea.

"There's no way I would win" I told him.

"That's okay," he said, "there are lots of reasons for running that have nothing to do with winning."

I thought about it and discussed it with my wife and decided to run.

I would ABSOLUTELY recommend it. Running for office was fun and interesting, and it was, without a doubt, the greatest civics lesson of my life. I would remind anyone considering it that there are a lot of reasons for running that have nothing to do with winning.

The story of my campaign is a matter of public record. I accepted no donations and only spent about $30 of my own money on the race - for some labels that I used as stickers in the last week. I went to most of the candidate forums, but none of the Democratic Party endorsement meetings (I registered too late for those). I was generally well-received and I won endorsements from the P-I, the Weekly and the Stranger.

I finished third in a three-way primary and was not a candidate in the general election.

I would do it again, if my work situation and my family obligations would allow it. I'm a little afraid that, if I ran again, I would run to win and there is a serious risk that I might win.

That might surprise some folks who have come to know and loathe me from this blog. Despite how harsh or combative I may appear here online, in person I'm nothing like that. I think it has a lot to do with the tone of voice people assign to me.

I am actually very easy to get along with, generally ready to see other people's perspectives, and, if people will take the time to explain things to me, generally willing to give folks a break. I wouldn't mention a problem if I didn't either have a solution or was actively seeking one. Believe it or not, there are people who know and respect me - even in the District.

In two years, three seats will come up for election: District IV, now represented by Michael
DeBell, District V, now represented by Mary Bass, and District VII, now represented by Cheryl Chow. If you live in these Districts, I would strongly suggest you consider running.

If you do, would you say that I recruited you? Would it, in any way, make you less independent-minded?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Charlie - this history was very interesting!

A clarification - my issue wasn't actually with whether I (or any candidate) would be willing to say I was recruited, it was with the would-be recruiter saying that and taking that credit.