Elections blather: demystifying PDC data!

I’ve never really looked at candidate Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) filing data much before. Generally I depend on news reports or summaries from others. But I realized that until filing week, you don’t really know whose running unless they get media attention. But, state law requires a candidate to file with the PDC within 2 weeks of “declaring” which includes any public statement of intention to run or accepting any donations. Most competitive candidates are going to have lots of data in the PDC database long before formally filing to run for an office (and currently elected officials are possibly taking in donations all the time so are regularly submitting to PDC data). So I went to look.

There’s all kinds of interesting stuff in there!

The big local political news of the week is that first term mayor Ed Murray will not be running for re-election, though he will finish out his term. The why is kind of sad and frustrating but I was poking around the local candidate PDC data and discovered that his campaign had already raised over $400k, far, far more than anyone else (to be expected).

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Screenshot: city of Seattle Mayor’s race PDC data on May 10, 2017
Note that for most of these screenshots I’m filtering down to candidates who have raised more than $1000 (this ends up filtering out self-funded candidates planning to spend less than $5000 and non-serious candidates). My apologies for the screenshots: I haven’t figured out how to link to a particular set of queried and filtered data.

When Murray first ran in 2013 against then incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn, he far out-raised everyone (this is primary and general election):

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Screenshot: city of Seattle mayor’s race PDC data for 2013
Since Murray is leaving the race, the money he’s raised can be returned to donors, or kept until after the primary and re-donated to other campaigns. One other interesting bits in the mayoral data: Cary Moon is already in debt. Huh. I wonder why?

I also poked around in the data to look at Seattle Public Schools races for board director as positions 4, 5 and 7 are up. When I grew up, I was told school board was how folks get started in political careers so in idle moments I look at it. In Seattle, you essentially hear nothing about school board unless it’s absurdly dramatic, which at times it is. But there’s been nothing lately. Is anyone challenging the incumbents? Well, let’s find out in the PDC data! Not so much:

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Screenshot: Seattle Public Schools board of directors PDC data on May 10, 2017
Patu is the incumbent for position 7, but the other incumbents apparently haven’t filed their forms yet! That’s okay as I think they only have to once they actually file (or otherwise publicly indicate their intent to run again). But that got me curious: how much do people need to raise for a school board race? It’s literally an unpaid elected position which is notoriously painful and time-consuming, so it seems absurd that you’d ALSO have to raise a lot of money to win. The going rate for a normal contested race is in the tens of thousands it appears:

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Screenshot: Seattle Public Schools board of directors PDC data for 2013
The position 4 race in 2013 was particularly high spending and note that the candidate who spent the most actually lost. Patu in 2013 did not actually spend nothing but rather declared that she wasn’t raising more than $500 from outside donors and wasn’t planning to spend more than $5000 total (including her own money).

Another big race locally is Seattle city council position 8, which is an at-large position (voted on by all Seattle voters, rather than those in a particular geographic district). The race has been wide open since the incumbent, Tim Burgess, months ago said he wasn’t running for re-election. Tonight the 34th Legislative District Democrats (West Seattle, Burien, White Center and over to Vashon Island) were voting on endorsements, including this race. There’s a whole mess of candidates and I just can’t keep track. The ever useful West Seattle Blog tweeted which candidates received nominations. I was surprised to learn that no one nominated Jon Grant who had entered the race early (I think even maybe before Burgess publicly said he wasn’t running). He seems to have lots of support, at least among some folks I know. Edit: a locally politically active friend thankfully pointed out that Jon Grant is not running as a democrat so was not eligible for nomination – there was a whole kerfluffle about it at their previous meeting!

I was also surprised because I’d never heard of two of the nominations! Social and other media bubbles are weird and I just … hadn’t heard of these candidates for this position. So I went to the PDC data!

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Screenshot: city of Seattle, city council position 8 PDC data on May 10, 2017
As above, this is filtered down to candidates who have raised at last $1000. Otherwise it would include, no joke, four more candidates (not counting Burgess) who have submitted disclosures for a total of twelve (12!) candidates for the race (the top two in the primary go to the general election). I had just completely not heard of either Charlene Strong or Hisam Goueli, but were put up for endorsement while Jon Grant was not. West Seattle Blog reports the 34th LD ultimately endorsed Teresa Mosqueda.

Finally, for a bit of fun, if you know much about Seattle and Washington politics, you might know about perennial candidate Goodspaceguy, who has previously run for commissioner of the Port of Seattle and, last year, governor of the state. Yes, that’s his legal name, as you can see in his 2016 PDC form C1 in which he declares he will not be spending more than $5000. Searching the 2017 statewide, judicial and local PDC data for his name turns up no records … yet.

Seattle, let’s not pass a soda tax

A while back Mayor Murray proposed a soda tax. I haven’t talked a lot about it because it didn’t seem to be going very far very fast. Just another thing that Murray proposed at the beginning of the year. But today’s Seattle Times had an article about it pushing the health benefits and apparently on Thursday at a parks forum, mayoral candidate Mike McGinn said he’d keep pushing the soda tax to pay for parks.

But few left wing policy ideas make me more angry than the soda tax. The obvious reason to oppose it is that it’s regressive. Less wealthy people drink more sugary beverages and it makes up more of their income. Advocates tinker on the edges — Murray’s now includes diet soda to make it less regressive — but continue to support it despite its regressiveness because of the health benefits. The health benefits are real. We’d all be better off if we consumed less sugar.

But soda taxes have a more insidious problem to me. They are explicitly telling poor and struggling people they are doing life wrong. That the small convenience and pleasure of a soda is hurting them so much the government needs to tax it to prevent “lifestyle” health problems. A soda tax is telling poor people that they are choosing to hurt themselves.

We already tell poor people all the time that it’s their fault they are poor. I grew up listening to it. That if only you are just a little more careful, made better choices and worked a little harder, then you wouldn’t be poor. A soda tax is just one more way we say it’s your fault if you’re poor and society has to pay for your sins. The cognitive and emotional burden of being poor makes it harder to get out of poverty. It’s hard to make good decisions about money when you’re constantly struggling. It’s hard to feel good about anything when you can’t afford to feel nice and those little pleasures you can afford are denigrated. It’s hard to succeed when you don’t feel good. A soda tax is maybe a little paper cut in that system. But it’s still a cut.

In Seattle, this proposed “soda” tax is expected to bring in around $20 million a year, of course rightly earmarked for programs to help with education disparities between white and non-white children. The operating budget of Seattle is over $5.7 BILLION. This tax would maybe bring in 0.3% of our operating budget (or 0.6% of the non-utility budget). We are proposing to create a regressive tax that adds to the emotional burden of being poor for a little bit of revenue.

If we’re going to tax people’s food choices, I propose instead we figure out a way to tax the “small” pleasures of our wealthier residents instead. Beers and sugary cocktails and all those tasty, but extremely caloric, fancy plates are just as bad for us as soda. I’m not sure what this would entail – maybe a luxury restaurant sales tax for restaurants with above average prices. I would be one of those people paying it, as I like my fancy beer and fancy plates. But it seems far less awful message than a soda tax and at least the people buying $7 pints can afford it.