Recall Campaign Against Socialist Kshama Sawant Is Backed by Billionaires

An unusual special election in Seattle’s District 3 on December 7 will decide whether avowedly socialist City Councilor Kshama Sawant will be recalled from her position. The fact that Sawant’s seat is under dire threat is indicative of the contempt that Seattle’s business interests hold for her and her policies: The considerable victories Sawant has won for working people have made her the target of some of Seattle’s most powerful forces.

Despite protestations to the contrary, it’s eminently clear that the well-financed political action committees (PACs)The landlords, real-estate developers, corporate executives, and other wealthy constituents who represent the bastions of corporate power are backing Sawant’s campaign. After leveling disingenuous charges against her and engaging in months of misleading campaigning, they’ve now put the question up for a vote — on an atypical date, chosen to suppress turnout. The Kshama Solidarity CampaignSawant and her coalition of activists, unions and working people have mobilized substantial volunteer efforts to defend her. However, the referendum on Sawant promises not to be as bitterly contested or consequential.

Trumpeted-Up Charges

Sawant and her supporters have won concrete victories against capital, despite her wider support for leftist policies. a groundbreaking $15 minimum wage the JumpStart payroll taxAmazon and other large corporations. Notable wins include free legal representation for rentersBans on school year winterEvictions and a requirement for six months’ notice for rent increases, plus relocation assistance — to list only a few recent examples. Sawant is a strong leader and if she is allowed to continue on the council, she will aggressively pursue rent control and additional taxes on the wealthy.

It’s quite transparent that the recall is politically motivated, perpetrated by establishment forces that fear Sawant’s impact on their profits. The recall is proceeding instead under the pretense of three charges of alleged malfeasance. Henry Bridger II is the Recall campaign manager. insisted that the vote is “only about the charges.” But given capital’s structural incentives to depose Sawant, that would be difficult to believe — even if those accusations weren’t incredibly flimsy.

The recall is based on thin allegations of unethical conduct. The first is that Sawant abused government resources to promote her Tax Amazon campaign — by adding links to it on a city website. This is laughable considering the influence. Amazon exertedOpposition to the campaign. Sawant has already been fined for this incredibly minor offense. She’s also charged with “leading” a Black Lives Matter protest to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s house (whether she actually led it is disputed), and, on another occasion, allowing protesters into City HallNot in accordance with COVID guidelines.

Washington State requires that recall campaigns be approved by the courts. A King County court and the Washington Supreme Court were both created. ultimately approvedThese are the final three charges of six, which amounted to denying a Sawant appeal. Sawant was not permitted to present a defense. Furthermore, it’s critical to understand that the court’s judgment was undertaken Assuming that the charges were trueAs the law requires, courts rule accordingly NotThey are based on their veracity. However, it is important to consider whether they technically constitute offenses that could be grounds for removal from office. (As noted in TruthoutThe Supreme Court also rejected similar recall attempts against Mayor Durkan, a right-wing sheriff a Yakima councilmanFor more serious accusations: Durkan permitted police to use teargas against protests and the two conservatives flouted COVID regulations far more recklessly than Sawant. Nevertheless, voters have been led to believeShe broke laws. The recall campaign has, of course, hastily eluded the nuances surrounding this judgment in their deceptive messaging.

Corporate War Chests

The organizers of Kshama Solidarity Campaign are familiar with many of the backers of this recall: a contingent consisting of real estate interests and landlords, corporations and wealthy individuals, right-wing and left-wing alike. cloyingly titled PACs, have opposedProgressive candidates and historical policy. By July, 20 percent of the recall campaign’s contributions had come from Republican donors. The donor lists of its PACs contain, among others, “over 130 Trump donors, over 500 rich Republican donors and over 850 millionaires,” pointed out Kshama Solidarity Campaign spokesperson Bryan Koulouris in a conversation with Truthout.

Here’s a selection of notable recall donors that have exceeded their individual donations. George Petrie is Donald Trump’s biggest donor in Washington State and the head of the predatory Goodman Real Estate, which has evicted residents in drovesWhile targeting union members. Billionaire Trump supporterMartin Selig, a major landlord, is one of the most prominent. rents Immigration and Customs Enforcement its detention center. Richard Hedreen works as a real-estate developer and hotelier. low pay and exploitative conditionsAt his properties, he inspired a unionization drive which management met intimidation. The former is another generous giver. CEO of BoeingMembers of the billionaire club Nordstrom family AirBnb CFO David StephensonPreviously of Amazon. Chairman recalls in the wake of allegations of corporate influence Henry Bridger II said, bafflingly, “I’m literally unemployed. I’m unemployed. There is no way, I’ve been unemployed all year. No, it’s not billionaire-backed.” It is difficult to square that assertion with the backing of billionaires.

This isn’t the firstSawant has been threatened by recall. She has faced towering corporate opposition throughout her tenure and has bested Seattle’s largest companies before: She won a second four-year term in 2019 over their objections. Amazon’s $1.5 million in contributions to a political action committee for Egan Orion, Sawant’s opponent in that earlier race, failed to ensure her defeat, doubtless to the dismay of the exploitative monopolist. (That PAC was sponsored by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce — indicative of the local capital’s full-bore opposition.) In fact, Amazon’s massive expenditures in 2019They may have been wrong; they exposed the machinations in power and made it into a referendum about corporate influence in politics.

This time around, Amazon, conscious of the optics, is appearing conspicuously neutral — at least on the surface. Though it hasn’t formed a PAC, Amazon executives can be found among the recall’s donors, including their director of global real estate, “head of charter schools” and other top executives, according to Koulouris. It’s not hard to guess which outcome the company would prefer.

The number of anti-Sawant political action committees has increased as corporate interests prepare for the floodgates to be opened in the weeks leading up to the election. A second committee “A Better Seattle,”Founded to circumvent campaign finance rules that limit individual giving to the original PAC. “Recall Sawant,”At $1,000 The new entity was created immediately showered with contributionsIt includes real estate, corporate and business interests. Its average donation is $750Two-thirds have given $1,000 or more. Only a week before the vote, a third PAC, “Citizens for Safe Neighborhoods,” was instituted.

The corporate advantages over Sawant are still more evident. At the end November, contribution limits to A Better Seattle were lifted — a judge ruled that unlimited giving to the PAC is legally allowable. Kevin Hamilton, its legal representative, demanded this. Citizens Uniteddecision, construing any restrictions on corporate expenditures as a First Amendment violation. Beyond this placing of wealthy thumbs on the scale, it’s also unusual to change this type of rule so late in the race, after ballots have already been mailed.

“It’s already ridiculous that a corporate PAC can be set up at all in order to circumvent campaign finance laws. As if that wasn’t enough, they had to lift the limit so that anyone can donate as much as they want,” Koulouris told Truthout.

“We’re up against a lot,” he continued, “and we’re really proud that Kshama’s leadership, her council office and the socialist movement in Seattle have made these powerful enemies.”

Grassroots or Astroturf?

Meanwhile, the Kshama Solidarity Campaign is seeing support come in from leftists and working-class people around the country — earning, on average, much smaller donations. It has been blessed by dozens of unions. high-profile endorsementsPublic intellectual Noam Chomsky and union leader Sara Nelson are just two examples. The national attention paid to a local skirmish is indicative of this vote’s consequential ramifications.

Both campaigns are available. approaching a million dollarsIn funding. The recall campaign raised ironic complaints about the Solidarity Campaign’s undue influence, since Sawant has received support from leftists across the country. News articles in corporate media have leapt to highlight that around half her funding comes from outside city limits, focusing the narrative on Sawant’s alleged abuses while downplayingThe role of business interests

“The recall campaign loves to use this language about outside agitators, people not from the district, but 4,500 of the Solidarity Campaign’s donors are in-district, to say nothing of the numerous local canvassers and signature gatherers who have also volunteered their time to defend Sawant,” says Koulouris. “You don’t see volunteer door-knockers for the recall campaign. It’s extremely astroturfed — whereas the Kshama Solidarity Campaign has had over a thousand volunteers from the community.”

The Kshama Solidarity Campaign mobilized legions of canvassers to reach the public with the help of the local Democratic Socialists of America section. They also used doorknockers, tablers, and canvassers to build a substantial get-out the vote operation. A documentary by filmmaker Derek Knowles, which premiered in November on leftist streaming service Means TV, captured the urgency of the effort, and the Solidarity Campaign’s earnest grassroots dedication.

The recall campaign has unleashed a torrential anti-Sawant propaganda. With robust finances, says Koulouris, it “can bombard people with nonstop ads on your phone, on your computer, on you TV, in your mail, anywhere you go, attacking Kshama and putting out the recall’s dishonest message.”

Recall strategies are also included billboardsAnd hiring a plane to fly a banner across the sky over the city. (“Recall Sawant,” it read.) Henry Bridger II was recall campaign chairman and provided a bizarre defense of the flight expenditure: It had “less of a carbon foot print than thousands of Sawant posters slapped all over the district on light poles where city workers and others have to drive around removing them and eventually ending up in a landfill for hundreds of years.”

Scheduled for Supression

Also unusual is the choice of Tuesday, December 7, for the vote — for one thing, Seattle’s November elections have just occurred. This is deliberate: The recall campaign, with blatant motives, has been eagerly awaiting the vote to delay it. Due to her broad support from the people, Sawant would have been more likely to retain her seat if the recall question had been on the November ballot.

Nevertheless, special elections in King County often result in depressed turnouts. The 2020 election saw 87 percent turn out, while a special election in that year saw only 33 percent. And, said Koulouris, “In special elections — and the cynical right-wing recall campaign knows this — it’s not Just that turnout goes down. It’s that turnout goes down among younger people, among poorer people, among people of color, among working-class people in general. That’s what they want.”

A Tuesday in the first week of December is a deeply inconvenient time for the younger and less wealthy constituents who are more inclined to support Sawant — they’ve justMany voters did not vote in the previous election. Voters were often preoccupied or on vacation when the ballots arrived. This will mean that they will be busy with school and work when it happens. “It’s virtually the most undemocratic time imaginable, one of the worst Tuesdays in the whole year for having an election,” said Koulouris.

The recall campaign aimed to stall elections by delaying the submission of signatures after the August 3 deadline. This paradoxically led to a situation where it was beneficial for the Kshama Solidarity Campaign collecting signatures ForTo ensure that they arrived by the deadline, the recall was done. Sawant herself submitted her name. Even though they had more signatures than the minimum required, the recall campaign refused their petition. The deadline was missed. (Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger assembled a more detailed chronologyThis is a minor farce.

Henry Bridger II went on to claim that, “The recall campaign has always been focused on [having the] recall on the ballot for District 3 voters in November.” (In April, Bridger II had stated outrightTo media, it was stated that the recall campaign wanted the issue to be omitted from the November ballot.

An Anti-Democratic Vote

This kind of charade in play in Seattle is a familiar one: “astroturfing,” i.e., artificial grassroots action, attempts to veil the machinations of the ruling class. Henry Bridger II, as an example. insistsHe is actually a former Sawant voter who is concerned in good faith over her abuses of power. Ernest Lou, the Seattle resident under whose name the recall petition was filed, similarly paints himself as merely a public-spirited Democrat with no connection to corporations — despite his former roles at Microsoft and Amazon. The recall campaign claims that it is an organic, grassroots effort. This is repeated over and over again. If it is, then at most the democratic interests hundreds of millionaires will be represented.

Though the hand of business is quite visible in this race, it’s possible that the recall may be able to keep turnout low, while convincing enough voters that Sawant’s grievous abuses are the real issue at hand. The recall campaign’s strenuous efforts to keep the vote from appearing on the November ballot indicate that Sawant’s opponents have little confidence in popular support for their cause. Past elections have revealed that District 3 has a significant number of left-leaning voters that reliably voteFor progressive candidates, including Sawant in 2019. There are still a starkly delineated line across the district — wealthy residents in the northeast corner loathe Sawant.

If the recall fails, it will have a negative impact on leftist and progressive elected officials throughout the country. This effort is part of a flurry of recalls in recent years — at least 500 in 2021 — many of them targeted at the left, like the one against reformist San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Recalls are now part a growing arsenal to protect against radical change after a leftist resurgence, which has won comparatively small, but significant victories. (The proof-of-concept of Byron Brown’s do-over write-in campaign against India Walton is another instance.) Capital and its acolytes are not afraid to use a mechanism for ostensible democracy against working people’s interests. Sawant and her constituents may thwart the disingenuous recall effort and its flimsy charges, but confronting the concerted efforts of Seattle’s capitalists will demand everything they can muster.