We can't blame you if you're having a hard time differentiating between the six Democratic candidates who are running to take retiring US Rep. Jay Inslee's seat in the newly drawn 1st Congressional District—swing turf that rolls north from the Microsoft suburbs up into rural Whatcom County. (Inslee's running for governor).
You've got two former Microsoft execs who also both ran against US Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA, 8 )—Darcy Burner and Suzan DelBene. (Burner is also known as a netroots star and as the former executive director of ProgressiveCongress.org, a DC-based lefty activist group. DelBene, who also started Drugstore.com, was most recently the director of the state Dept. of Revenue.)
There are also two current state legislators—state Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens) and state Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45, Kirkland)—plus a former state rep, Laura Ruderman, who also worked at Microsoft.
Burner, Goodman, and Ruderman lean the furthest left, while Delbene, Hobbs, and a sixth candidate, entrepreneur Darshan Rauniyar, occupy the middle to conservative faction. Here's our take on their first debate.
But of course, it's tricky to generalize. Hobbs, for example, known as a leader of the legislature's ad hoc crew of conservative Democrats, the Roadkill Caucus, is progressive on social issues such as gay marriage (he voted for it) and choice (he's the senate sponsor of the reproductive parity act.)
To get a better read on this pack, we took a look at the fundraising records that are currently available from the last two quarters of 2011.[pullquote]With so many candidates chasing after the same Democratic money, the advantage is DelBene's, a millionaire who can self-finance.[/pullquote]
For starters, Ruderman, a tenacious fundraiser, is leading the pack in money raised so far at $258,000 with $187,000 cash on hand. (Big asterisk here: DelBene—who, by the way, kicked in $2.3 million of her own money in her unsuccessful 2010 race against Republican Rep. Reichert—entered late and does not have official stats up at the Federal Elections Commission, but has come out blazing according to her campaign, raising $200,000 after just a month and a half in the race.)
Goodman has raised $209,000 with $53,000 cash on hand.
Rauniyar has raised $140,000 with $114,000 cash on hand.
Burner has raised $127,000 with $89,000 cash on hand. (Burner, much like DelBene, entered late—she's only been running since October—so her total, which puts her near the bottom, is actually pretty impressive.)
And Hobbs has raised $124,000 with $86,000 cash on hand.
But the real information in the campaign finance reports isn't in the totals, but in the contributors themselves. If you can judge a candidate by who's donating, here's what we've got.
Burner gets the hipster award because her top contributor, at $5,000, is an exec at Popcap, the upstart gaming company, making Popcap her biggest contributor over Microsoft (finance reports conflate individuals and their companies.) Other notable Burner contributors include former Seattle city council rabble-rouser Judy Nicastro and local consultant Blair Butterworth.
Goodman may have gotten the hipster award ... in the 70s! His biggest contributor—at $10,000—is the DC-based Marijuana Policy Project PAC. And the New York-based Drug Policy Reform Fund is in for $3,000. Goodman has done heavy lifting on strengthening domestic violence laws, drunk driving laws, and early learning funding, but is best known for his work to end the drug war. Another one of Goodman's top contributors: Jason Flom, head of the indie rock label Lava Records, which used to put out Matchbox 20, Basement Jaxx, and Hot Action Cop—and currently, the glam band Black Veil Brides.
Ruderman's top donor is—by virtue of employee contributions, not PAC donations—Microsoft at $16,000. Amazon, same deal, is next at $5,500. Ruderman doesn't have any notable donors, just lots of them.
To me, the sleeper story that emerges from looking at contributions is Hobbs. Hobbs is trailing the pack, but his contributor base looks like a gold mine—and one that could cut the legs out from a GOP opponent if Hobbs makes it through the primary. His top donors are the National Bankers Association at $5,000 and the National Auto Dealers Association, which also gave $5,000. (These are PAC contributions, not an aggregate of individuals.)
Hobbs' list is also littered with members of the Washington Roundtable (the Washington CEO lobbying group) such as Paccar's Ron Armstrong and some of Olympia's top corporate lobbyists such as Boeing's Laura Peterson ($1,500) Jeffrey Gombosky ($1,000) who represents pharmaceutical companies and beer companies. and Steve Gano ($500), the top corporate lobbyist in Olympia, representing tobacco (Altria), beer (Miller), health insurance (Premera), oil (Shell), Banks (Key, Wells Fargo), Wal-Mart and AT&T, among others.
If Hobbs can prove to the business community that he's got traction, he could build a formidable bank account. Hobbs' conservative bent is certainly more of a match for the newly drawn district than a hyper-progressive resume (at least in the pending showdown with the main Republican candidate, Snohomish County Council member and arch conservative John Koster.) Koster, by the way, has raised $224,000 with $84,000 cash on hand and top contributions coming in from the construction industry.
However, with the traditional Democratic base not so keen on Hobbs—the teachers' union can't stand him for leading on ed reform issues such as teacher evaluations and "streamlining" K-12 benefits (in fact, the teachers' union is holding a rally in Hobbs' district tonight to protest a state takeover of the unions' health care plan), Hobbs may not be able to break though to get at his wealthy conservative sympathizers.
Rauniyar's support appears to come largely from the Nepalese business community with big contributions coming in from Nepalese entrepreneurs from New Jersey, Texas, California, and Maryland. His top contributor is Keshab Raj Seadie, an attorney from New Jersey, at $2,000.
Of course, here's a major footnote on all of this: With so many candidates chasing after the same Democratic money, the next quarter's numbers are likely to be—and this is in Rep. Goodman's words—"anemic." In fact, he says the money is "frozen" and the advantage is DelBene's, a millionaire who can self-finance.