In races for the Washington state House of Representatives affecting Whidbey Island, Democratic candidates received funding primarily from individuals while businesses and PACs were among Republican candidates’ top supporters, according to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.
But according to candidates, these numbers alone may not tell the whole story of who is backing their campaigns.
So far, candidates for the 10th Legislative District have received over $600,000 in campaign contributions. Two incumbent House representatives, Democrat Dave Paul and Republican Greg Gilday, are facing challenges from first-time candidates Karen Lesetmoe and Clyde Shavers.
All four of these candidates will progress to the general election in November, but the primary’s results show the Democrats taking the lead, with Paul earning about 54% of the vote to Lesetmoe’s 46% and Shavers pulling ahead of Gilday with nearly 52% of the vote.
Both Democrats saw contributions from individuals make up over half of their total funds raised. Shavers’s campaign has raised over $152,000. According to data from the Public Disclosure Commission, over 75% of this money has come from individual donations. Of Paul’s $211,000 raised, just under 60% came from individual contributions.
Shavers also took a smaller cut from political action committees, or PACs, than the other District 10 candidates, with the $13,250 he received from PACs making up less than 9% of his total contributions.
To Shavers, the high percentage of donations coming from individuals — and the fact that contributions to his campaign have kept pace with Gilday’s — is indicative of broad support among District 10’s residents. Shavers said he has received contributions not just from members of his own party, but from Republicans and Independents as well.
“We really are running a campaign dedicated to ordinary citizens,” he said.
He pointed out that his opponent, Republican incumbent Gilday, has received less than half of his contributions from individuals and has been funded in large part by big corporations.
Gilday, however, said this shouldn’t be understood to mean that his candidacy doesn’t appeal to local constituents.
At around $54,000, donations from businesses are just shy of the $55,000 in contributions Gilday’s campaign has received from individuals. Both categories make up around 35% of his total $155,000 in contributions, according to the commission. Contributors include large corporations such as Walmart and oil companies such as Marathon Petroleum, both of which are based out of state.
But many of the large businesses that have backed Gilday’s campaign, though headquartered outside of the 10th District, are major employers locally, the incumbent said.
For example, Gilday said, Amazon has donated to his campaign. Though the Seattle-based tech giant may seem to have little to do with the 10th District, Amazon distribution centers planned in Skagit County and Smokey Point may employ hundreds or thousands of District 10 residents.
He added that smaller local businesses have also supported his campaign. The Public Disclosure Commission counts these establishments among the businesses that have contributed, though Gilday said support from a small business is often tantamount to support from an individual.
As for receiving money from oil companies, Gilday pointed out that the refinery in Anacortes, though itself outside of the district, employs many 10th District constituents.
“They provide a product we all use and that the economy relies on,” he said.
PAC donations made up most of the rest of Gilday’s contributions at $41,250.
Lesetmoe, a Republican, received a show of support from the House Republican Organizational Committee, a caucus of elected Republicans currently serving in the state House of Representatives. With $48,000 donated, the caucus supplied nearly half of the candidate’s $114,187 total contributions.
Lesetmoe said the reason individual donations have so far made up less than a quarter of her total contributions is that she has been hesitant to ask a community already strained by inflation for money.
“We already have so many people that are already financially hurting and having a hard time making ends meet,” she said. “It’s just not the way that I have been operating.”
She acknowledged, however, that this will have to change heading into the General Election. As a first-time candidate, she said, she is starting to see the need for more advertising to get her name out there among voters, and she hopes her supporters will understand the urgency.
Where Lesetmoe soared above the other District 10 candidates was in independent expenditures. Independent expenditures comprise money spent by any organization separate from a candidate’s campaign to advertise for or against that candidate. Candidates have no control over this money or how it is used.
Organizations spent $141,873 in support of Lesetmoe — much more than was spent on any other candidate, and even more than Lesetmoe raised in contributions. Lesetmoe said she believes so much outside money was spent advertising for her because the organizations that spent money independently in favor of her candidacy see her potential to address the issues the community is facing.
For example, as a real estate broker, Lesetmoe said she believes she can provide important insight into the housing affordability crisis. The National Association of Realtors was among those organizations that made independent expenditures on her behalf.
Lesetmoe’s opponent, Democratic incumbent Paul, has been the only District 10 candidate so far to have independent expenditures made against him, though Paul said the attack ads that have been run against him fell flat.
“I think voters saw through the attacks,” he said.
Paul said the more than $200,000 his campaign has received in contributions so far is more than he has ever raised in a primary election before. About a quarter of his contributions, or $48,400 have come from PACs. Though he has received more PAC money than his Democratic counterpart Shavers, Paul said the PACs supporting him are organizations promoting workers’ rights, addressing climate change and otherwise reflecting the values of the local community.