Election 2023: Where the Big Election Money Did and Didn’t Go


Deep-pocketed interests spent big on local politics ahead of Tuesday’s elections. It’s time to see how that went.

In Spokane, where the bonkers-expensive mayor’s race was the richest of the year, The Spokesman-Review’ went with this headline “The big money fell short, up and down the ballot” over Shawn Vestal’s analysis. Former Democratic state lawmaker Lisa Brown is leading¹ incumbent Mayor Nadine Woodward despite an ocean of independent cash from the business-backed Spokane Good Government Alliance and like-minded groups. While Brown did benefit from aggressive late spending by the union-backed Citizens for Liberty and Labor, her side was significantly outspent.

Brown on the campaign trail with her grandson.

It should be noted that Brown represented the city for years in the Legislature, and Woodward did her some favors with all that Matt Shea baggage. Brown had coattails down the ballot. City Councilmember Betsy Wilkerson looks to be the next council president, and all but one of the Alliance’s pro-business slate was losing.

However, there are a couple of flaws in Vestal’s analysis. A separate committee with similar donors to the Good Government Alliance spent a ton to handily pass Measure 1, which restricts locations for sanctioned homeless encampments. And Spokane County’s voters are soundly rejecting a proposed new jail after a big-money campaign of a different stripe. Justice Not Jails, the campaign opposing the jail, got a boatload of cash from two left-leaning foundations, including the Inatai Foundation. ²

So it’s not so much that big money fell short in the Lilac City, but which big money.

In a weird juxtaposition, business money looks to be playing better in the nominally more progressive cities west of the Cascades. Business-backed candidates look well on their way to a near-sweep of the Seattle City Council. Of particular note are the possible defeats of incumbents Andrew Lewis and Tammy Morales, who were the targets of a whole bunch of hardball from independent PACs fueled with money mostly from the real estate industry. Here’s a sample ad attacking Lewis:

Caption: An independent-expenditure hit piece directed against City Councilmember Andrew Lewis.

Those donors aren’t happy with the current council’s laissez-faire attitude toward the city’s post-COVID dystopian vibe, which isn’t good for business if you’re in the business of building or renting downtown office space and apartment buildings. The voters appear to be receptive to that argument.

The only incumbent who looks to survive is Dan Strauss, who represents the Ballard-centered 6th District. Strauss’s opponent, Pete Hanning, did poorly in the August primary and didn’t draw the kind of independent support that other challengers did. Some folks might be kicking themselves over that, since the race looks close enough that some hardball might have made the difference.

In Tacoma, the city’s voters are currently split over Measure 1, which would install a suite of renter protections, including a ban on evictions in the winter. The measure, which currently has slightly less than 49 percent of the vote, drew an expensive opposition campaign from landlords and their allies, notably the Washington Association of Realtors

Up in Whatcom County, a version of the Spokane County jail fight went the other way, with voters overwhelmingly approving a package deal that includes both the jail and spending aimed at keeping people out of it. This is the third time around for this measure, and advocates for the jail made significant concessions after voters rejected it in 2015 and 2017. Ralph Schwartz at Cascadia Daily News goes deep if you’re interested.


  1. We note that there’s a boatload of votes outstanding (75-80%). Late-breaking votes typically break left, but weird shit can happen.

2. Inatai is a sponsor of the Observer’s annual policy conference.

3. The Realtors are also a sponsor of the policy conference.

This article first appeared in the author’s political website, The Washington Observer.

Paul Queary
Paul Queary
Paul Queary, a veteran AP reporter and editor, is founder of The Washington Observer, an independent newsletter on politics, government and the influence thereof in Washington State.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.