This Washington

Who's Really Funding the Anti-Tunnel Campaign

By Erica C. Barnett March 14, 2011

This article was published last Monday.

The Seattle Times and the Stranger are both having hissy fits over the campaign to undo agreements between the city and the state on the deep-bore tunnel.

The Times, picking up on PubliCola reporting that Mayor Mike McGinn's campaign consultant Bill Broadhead contributed $5,000 to the anti-tunnel campaign, editorializes that the "much-touted, grassroots campaign" against the tunnel is really just "McGinn and his pals" trying to accomplish something McGinn couldn't accomplish as mayor.

Noting that McGinn promised during his campaign that he wouldn't work against the city to kill the tunnel, the Times writes, "no matter how many individuals contribute, the referendum campaign is fueled by McGinn. He is aggressively trying to unwind a decision he once promised to respect."

In response, the Stranger's David Goldstein called the Times' editorial "stupid"; argued that Tim Eyman's campaigns are worse by comparison (huh?); and dismissed the importance of Broadhead's contributions.

"Uh, Broadhead is one of over 80 people who have contributed to the campaign in the less than two weeks it's been filed, and at 18 percent of the $27,000 [$24,000, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission] raised thus far, his $5,000 contribution isn't exactly of Dunmire-esque proportions. So, um, gimme a fucking break."  (Mike Dunmire is Tim Eyman's longtime initiative sugar daddy.)

Both sides need to take a deep breath.

On the Times' side: The mayor has the right to weigh in on a political campaign, whether he's supporting an ally's bid for city council or an anti-tunnel referendum. It may be unorthodox, but it isn't unethical. (Nor is it unprecedented: See, for example, former mayor Greg Nickels' endorsement of challenger Jean Godden against then-council member Judy Nicastro). And if McGinn was being disingenuous when he promised not to oppose the tunnel if elected, so what? It's not like the Times (or anyone) was under any illusions that he no longer opposed the tunnel.

On the Stranger's side: Goldstein insists that the anti-tunnel campaign is "grassroots" because it has "more than 80 donors" (actually, 78—enough to pack light rail car, but not the whole train).

Additionally, Goldstein says the anti-tunnel campaign is better than those statewide initiative campaigns that take millions from corporate interests. Okay, but not much of a standard.

Finally, Goldstein elides the fact that the anti-tunnel campaign is paying a company $2 for each signature it collects. Just over one week ago, Goldstein wrote a fire-and-brimstone post trashing the use of paid signature gatherers, saying the policy "offers [an] incentive for cheating."

Neither side is being honest. The anti-tunnel campaign isn't a true grassroots campaign---in the sense of being run by volunteers and funded by small citizen contributions---but nor is it purely a McGinn fabrication. What's really going on in this debate is that the Times supports the tunnel, the Stranger opposes it, and both are spinning melodramatic storylines to justify their positions.

For those who prefer to draw their own conclusions, here are some salient numbers. Of the approximately $24,000 that the campaign has reported raising so far, $5,000, or about 21 percent, has come from Broadhead, and $12,800, or just more than half, has come from five large contributors. Meanwhile, employees of the mayor or his council ally, Mike O'Brien, have donated $1,450, not counting contributions from employees' parents and McGinn's wife.

Also on the list—some regular folks, including: a Lakeside school teacer for $150, an EPA manager for $200; a Microsoft software engineer for $300 (overdue shoutout to Seattle Transit Blog blogger Benjamin Schiendelman); and a batch of about 15 $50 donors.
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