State Politics Update: Adding Up the “Little” Money


Big Money makes its share of headlines, but even small piles of green can carry their weight in the race for the governor’s mansion.

Small-dollar donations can be a lifeboat for a campaign, but more importantly, show how strong an impression a candidate is making with voters. Talk is cheap and people can say anything to a pollster. Reaching into your wallet is another level of commitment.

We’re pulling back the curtain on the gubernatorial candidates’ small-dollar donor base ahead of the August primary to see if their little cash hauls stack up against recent polling. We considered a small-dollar donation any contribution less than $150, which is small for the world of campaign finance.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson has the distinction of sitting on both the biggest war chest in the race—which stands at $7.2 million—and the biggest small-dollar haul. About 17% of Ferguson’s contributions were small-dollar donations, totaling $1.2M from more than 21,000 donors, based on the most recent numbers from the Public Disclosure Commission.

Ferguson has broad support from the left thanks in part to his frequent and often successful litigation challenging Trump Administration policies, which turbocharged his existing advantage of running for governor from the AG’s office. 

Former King County Sheriff and U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert raised $3 million to date and 14% of that cash, or about $420,000, were small-dollar donations from more than 6,500 donors, PDC data shows. Reichert is running without the Washington GOP’s endorsement.  

The man who won that GOP endorsement, Semi Bird, has raised $108,000 in little bucks from more than 1,600 donors. Small donations comprise about 17% of the $551,000 total cash pile he’s amassed at this stage of the campaign.

State Sen. Mark Mullet’s campaign is dead last in terms of small-dollar love. About 300 small donors contributed roughly $21,000 of his $1.2 million war chest, according to the most recent PDC data. The Issaquah Democrat has strong support from the business lobby, where folks are accustomed to throwing around Ben Franklins instead of Andrew Jacksons.

The campaign with the highest average contribution per donor also happens to be Mullet’s, with an average of $893. Reichert’s average donation came in at $312, per the PDC, while Ferguson and Bird were nearly tied for the lowest average contribution per donor at $232 and $236, respectively.

You might ask yourself “Who donates to these people?” Most donors didn’t list their occupations, but we have some revealing stats for those who did.

Turns out that the typical person who donated any amount of money to the Ferguson campaign identifies their occupation as an “attorney,” “lawyer,” or “consultant.” People who put money down for Team Reichert were most likely to list themselves as “information service worker,” “business owner,” or “manager.” Your average Semi Bird donor described themselves as a “business owner,” “self-employed,” or a “homemaker.” Mullet’s donors were most likely to bear the title, “executive,” “president,” or “manager”— which tracks with his donors being more likely to hand over large sums of cash. 

More money—big and small—will likely flood the race between now and August. We’ll have to see whether that cash translates to votes. (Tim Gruver)

Other campaign cash news

Semi Bird got $25,000 from the Washington State Republican Party after the party’s convention endorsed him following Dave Reichert’s withdrawal from that tortured process. That’s a tiny fraction of the money the party could give a chosen candidate for governor. As we’ve noted before, it’s not clear the GOP’s major donors are on board for the Bird-for-Governor experiment. 

State Rep. Mike Chapman—the Olympic Peninsula Democrat who’s looking to move up to the Senate to replace outgoing Sen. Kevin Van De Wege in the 24th Legislative District—is spreading money around in interesting ways. He gave $30,000 from his surplus House campaign account to the House Democratic Campaign Committee, the hard-money PAC controlled by the majority Democrats in that chamber. The HDCC could theoretically give the money right back to his Senate campaign. He also gave $5,000 to the 24th District Democrats and $3,000 each to the county parties in Jefferson and Clallam Counties, home to most of the voters in the district. Chapman figures to get a respectable fight from Republican Marcia Kelbon of Quilcene. (Paul Queary)

Recommended Reading: 

Emry Dinman of The Spokesman-Review digs into some maybe-legal money-washing happening among the Republican candidates for Congress. State Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber donated $5,500 from her campaign surplus account to the Washington State Republican Party. The party, in turn, wrote a $5,000 check for her bid for the U.S. House seat in the 5th District. It would have been illegal for Maycumber to write that check directly, but the bank-shot of the party is part of a legal money-laundering system that we wrote about back in the earliest editions of the Observer. It’s against the rules to earmark a party contribution for a specific purpose, but we’re all but certain nobody had to be so crass as to mention that. Maycumber, a prolific fundraiser in a safe state House seat, has raised more than $270,000 over the years for the party and the Republican House caucus PACs, money that went to defend vulnerable colleagues and boost promising challenges. (Paul Queary)

Franz labor endorsement woes. Shauna Sowersby of McClatchy has more bad news on the union endorsement front for Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz’s bid for Congress. The Washington Public Employees Association, which represents workers at the Department of Natural Resources, which Franz oversees as commissioner, gave their nod to state Sen. Emily Randall, the other prominent Democrat in the race. This comes after a couple of really bad days for Franz earlier this month when many of the major players in labor also backed Randall. WPEA members had a hand in one of those big endorsements, arguing at the Washington State Labor Council’s Committee on Political Education meeting that the DNR is beset with worker safety problems and low morale.¹ (Paul Queary)

The NPR malaise writ small at KUOW. David Hydea longtime host and political reporter at KUOW² who recently left the Seattle public radio powerhouse, made his case on Post Alley for why its listeners are taking their ears elsewhere. It’s a microcosm of a larger kerfuffle sparked by the departure of a prominent NPR editor earlier this year. Hyde blames a decade-long lurch to the left driven by internal concern about criticism on social media and the arrival of a generation of younger reporters disinterested in airing the conservative side of hot-button arguments. For example, an anecdote about a KUOW staffer using the phrase “fucking right-to-lifers” during a discussion of abortion coverage suggests a growing institutional contempt for the moral and religious underpinnings of an entire side of the most divisive debate in American politics. As a longtime listener of KUOW, Hyde’s critique is audibly on-point. (Paul Queary)

Continuing education for teachers. Grace Deng with the Washington State Standard reported how lawmakers worked to button up the rules on what type of organizations are authorized to provide continuing education for Washington teachers. The change came after Moms for Liberty, a right-wing group that opposes teaching about race, gender, and sexuality in schools, registered as a potential provider. Moms for Liberty is considered a conservative extremist organization, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which conflicts with the state’s rules about continuing ed for teachers aligning with DEI values. Providers are regulated by the state Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB), which asked the Legislature to extend the authority for the board to review the curriculum and remove unacceptable providers from the list. (Sara Kassabian)


1. Thanks to Shauna, one of our sisters in news, for the shout-out for the Observer’s reporting in that piece.

2. Conflict of Interest Disclaimer: During Paul’s shadowy past as a communications operative, KUOW was his client during the station’s ill-fated attempt to acquire the rival then known as KPLU, which is now KNKX. That project had its own internal conflict because the Woman Who Lets Him Live With Her was on the KUOW board. 

These stories first appeared on the author’s political website, The Washington Observer.


  1. I am not a political operative or associated with any campaign. I am sharing
    why I am voting for Mark Mullet in the August Primary Election for perspective and hopes for a meaningful choice in the Governor’s campaign —

    Voting for State Senator Mark Mullet in the August primary would result in a spirited campaign for Governor in November. Bob Ferguson would surely defeat Republican options for Governor, Dave Reichert Semi Bird. A Mullet vs. Ferguson contest would be best for Washington State. Mullet and Ferguson are eminently qualified. It would be instructive and helpful to hear Mullet and Ferguson debate. Vote Mullet in August! Then, standby for Mullet/Ferguson to go head-to-head.

    About Senator and Candidate for Governor, Mark Mullet —
    Mark is a small business owner, father of four, a State Senator since 2012 and he served on the Issaquah City Council 2009 to 2013. Mark is a moderate compared to Bob Ferguson who I consider moderate, but a Jay Inslee clone, who deserves a worthy opponent.

    For more than 30 years Washington State has had a lawyer as Governor. Is it time for a small business owner who has managed people, made payroll and who understands how to manage profits AND losses. Versus, the same tax and spend mentality that seems to dominate in Olympia. Mark would get value from current taxes rather than asking for new taxes every year.
    Mark Mullet has pledged to improve statewide public safety, stiff consequences for the sale of dangerous drugs like fentanyl, support for women’s reproductive rights , champion public schools (his wife is a teacher) has garnered endorsements from mayors, (Everett, Ellensburg, Kent, Renton, Lacey, Mercer Island, Woodinville, Snoqualmie, Covington, Maple Valley, and Issaquah), Seattle City Council President, Sara Nelson, law enforcement organizations and Eastside Firefighters (Local 1762), Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, Senator Annette Cleveland, and Senator John Lovick, endorsed by realtors as a housing champion, and endorsed by our Public School Employees (Local 1948).

  2. Come on. The guy is polling in single digits. And please, do not promote him as any champion of public schools because his wife is a teacher. Mullet has championed charter schools the entire time he has been in Olympia. He barely gained re-election the last time he ran. He was toast the second Reichert announced.

    • I did not promote Mark Mullet as a champion of public schools. I am encouraging people to vote for Mark so there’s a real contest for Governor. Mullet is the best primary choice to avoid a Ferguson coronation as Governor. And yes, Mark won re-election where Inslee supported his opponent because Mark did not toe the line.

      • Well I respect your opinion and your position, but if Mullet can’t even break 10 percent in any polling done so far, it indicates to me that not enough people think he’s the “best primary choice to avoid a Ferguson ‘coronation.’ “

  3. 300 small donors in the whole state? I make their contributions to be less than 2% of his funds, which goes right along with what has been pretty obvious all along, that Mullet is a big business candidate, but somehow I had the impression he had more support than this.


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