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Did Amazon's spending sink the council candidates they supported?

Some Seattle council candidates say that Amazon's support of them through a local PAC hurt their campaigns. (KOMO News)
Some Seattle council candidates say that Amazon's support of them through a local PAC hurt their campaigns. (KOMO News)
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Amazon faced harsh criticism last month after dropping more than $1 million into the Seattle City Council race just weeks before Election Day. Now some of the candidates that money supported wonder if the spending backfired.

Amazon’s donation went to CASE, a PAC sponsored by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. In all, the company gave $1.5 million to CASE. The PAC then put its support behind candidates they hoped would reform the city’s approach on issues like homelessness and transportation.

That includes Egan Orion, who’s running against incumbent Kshama Sawant in District 3. CASE spent more than $400,000 to support Orion.

Orion initially led Sawant after Tuesday's vote counts. But after more votes were counted, he trailed Sawant as of Friday afternoon.

Orion says Amazon’s huge donation in the closing days hurt his campaign.

“Amazon’s contribution to CASE was our October surprise and a great gift to the Sawant team who previous to that clearly saw this race slipping away from them,” Orion told KOMO.

Right now, the tightest council races are swinging away from CASE-backed candidates.

Jim Pugel, who the PAC spent more than $300,000 supporting, now trails Andrew Lewis in District 7.

In District 1, Lisa Herbold is pulling away from Phil Tavel, who CASE also backed with more than $300,000.

Tavel says he doesn’t know how much Amazon’s donation helped or hurt, but he admits it changed the campaign.

“The way it happened was such a shock to the election,” he told KOMO. “It had people paying attention to the council race who may not have been paying attention at all.”

CASE spent more than $400,000 to support Heidi Wills in District 6. She conceded to Dan Strauss Friday evening.

“Did that support backfire? It’s too early to say,” Wills told KOMO.

Wills says the donation changed the narrative of the race. In the closing weeks, she says, funding from special interests, rather than local issues, became a major talking point.

“What I kept hearing in the final days of the campaign was if I had taken money from Amazon,” Wills told KOMO. “I think people didn’t recognize that was independent expenditure on my behalf, that I couldn’t control, and my campaign was rooted in grassroots politics.”

CASE Executive Director Markham McIntyre admits Amazon’s move may have impacted the election.

“The narrative did shift, and it became more of a national narrative, where you had presidential candidates weighing into local elections, rather than a referendum on the current city council and their effectiveness on local issues like homelessness, transportation and affordability,” McIntyre said in a statement.

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KOMO reached out to Amazon to find out if the company regrets their late spending. They didn’t respond.

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