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Former Costco CEO among top donors trying to sway Seattle voters

caption: A big pile of financial literacy.
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A big pile of financial literacy.

Former Costco CEO and Issaquah resident Jim Sinegal is the biggest-name donor trying to influence voters in Seattle’s City Council races.

So far, Sinegal’s made two separate $10,000 gifts to two "Independent Expenditure Committees," or political action committees (PACs), which are being funded by 18 big donors heading into the Aug. 1 primary.

Under Seattle’s system of public election financing, called Democracy Vouchers, participating candidates must promise to only take small, individual donations of a few hundred dollars.

PACs, however, are free to raise and spend whatever they want on political advertising. And since Democracy Vouchers went into effect in Seattle in 2017, more PAC dollars have, in turn, flooded into Seattle politics.

One of the two PACs Sinegal is backing calls itself the University Neighbors Committee. So far, it’s raised around $80,000 to support candidate Maritza Rivera, a former City Council staffer who currently directs Seattle’s Department of Arts & Culture.

Some of Rivera’s opponents say the PAC money proves she’s being backed by “bad actors.” They point to Trump-supporting donors to the University Neighbors Committee, including Seattle real estate CEO George Petrie, who donated to the former president following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. But to be fair, Petrie has also sometimes donated to Democrats, including Washington state Governor Jay Inslee and Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland.

For his part, Sinegal has donated generously and often in recent years to Democrats, including President Joe Biden, California State Rep. Adam Schiff and former Georgia State Rep. Stacey Abrams.

That said, the PAC money clearly gives Rivera a big advantage heading into Tuesday's primary by paying for ads that back her campaign. Separately, her campaign has raised an additional $77,000, which includes around $40,000 in public financing. The campaigns and PACs are not supposed to coordinate their efforts.

The same group of 18 donors to the University Neighbors Committee has also contributed to a second PAC called Elliot Bay Neighbors. That PAC is backing tech attorney Rob Saka in the open seat race for District 1 in West Seattle.

The top donors to the two PACs include Dunn Lumber ($25,000), Sinegal ($20,000), Kim Hemmingway ($20,000), George Petrie ($10,000), real estate billionaire John Goodman ($10,000), investor Joshua Green ($10,000), and real estate developer Matt Griffin, ($5,000).

A similar group backed Mayor Bruce Harrell and other candidates in 2021.

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