Can buildings give money to candidates?

In Bellevue, apparently, the answer is yes.

More than a half-dozen companies with names like "JLN Building LLC," "700 112th LLC," and "N-140 Building, LLC" have contributed to two city council challengers and one council incumbent. All three are members of a slate backed by Bellevue megadeveloper Kemper Freeman, who opposes light rail through the city and has sued to prevent rail from going across I-90. The slate consists of challengers Aaron Laing and Patricia Mann, presumed to be running against incumbents Claudia Balducci and John Chelminiak, and incumbent Jennifer Robertson.

Corporations, of course, can give money to candidates, but to see building-specific corporations donate money in such great quantities to just a few candidates (few of the building-specific companies have ever contributed to anyone before) is unusual, to say the least. We have a call out to the Public Disclosure Commission to find out just how unusual.

Most of the buildings on that list are owned by companies controlled by Louis B. Nickols, a Bellevue real-estate developer who has rarely contributed to candidates in the past. Nickols has not returned a call for comment.

Freeman, his wife Betty, and his company, Kemper Holdings, have also given generously to the three candidates, as have Bob Wallace, his son Kevin Wallace, and several companies they control. Kevin Wallace is on the city council and is allied with Robertson. By donating money to council challengers, Wallace is working directly to defeat his own council colleagues.

Incumbent Jennifer Robertson is part of a four-member council majority that supports the so-called B7 rail route south of the city, an alignment that bypasses job and population centers, skips the existing South Bellevue Park-and-Ride (requiring the construction of a new park-and-ride facility), and crosses the Mercer Slough wetland before traveling to downtown Bellevue parallel to I-405. The route serves fewer people and costs more than Sound Transit's preferred route.  Wallace, who owns property along B7, supports that route.

Challengers Aaron Laing and Patricia Mann also support B7. They're running against two council members---Claudia Balducci and John Chelminiak---who support Sound Transit's preferred B2 alignment, a more direct route into the city that stops at the park-and-ride, avoids the wetland, and goes past the Surrey Downs neighborhood before landing downtown.

Altogether, Laing has received $450 from 700 112th LLC (a company controlled by a man named Alexander M. Smith, according to the state secretary of state's office); a total of $1,500 from the Nickols-controlled companies associated with specific downtown Bellevue buildings; $1,500 from the Wallace family (including $500 from Kevin); and $3,200 from Kemper and Betty Freeman.

Mann, the other challenger, has raised $1,500 from the Wallaces (including $500 from Kevin), $3,200 from the Freemans, and $1,000 from the Wallace's development company, Wallace Properties.

Robertson, the incumbent, has raised $1,500 from 700 112th LLC, $2,500 from the Nickols-controlled companies, $1,500 from the Wallaces, $3,400 from the Freemans and Freeman's development company, Kemper Holdings, and $1,000 from Wallace Properties.

If Laing and Mann both win, a six-member majority of the council would support B7.
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