EVERETT — If voters have noticed a flood of Scott Bader in their mailboxes, there’s an explanation: The Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties has spent over $38,000 on advertising for Bader’s Everett City Council run.
The eye-popping sum is more than any Everett City Council candidate has raised for their campaign this year. And it matches all of Bader’s direct contributions combined. Even in Seattle, where campaign spending is generally much higher, only one City Council candidate has gotten more outside help than Bader.
Bader is trying to get back on the council after serving nearly a decade before declining to run for reelection in 2021.
For his part, Bader said he didn’t know what to make of the large independent expenditures on his behalf.
“All I can tell you is I am as stunned and surprised as anyone,” he said in an interview.
He hasn’t received anywhere near this amount in outside spending in past years. When he last ran in 2019, he received no outside spending. In 2012, he got just over $2,000, according to state Public Disclosure Commission filings.
The Master Builders is a trade association that lobbies on behalf of its approximately 2,500 member companies, which include real estate developers, remodelers and architects.
“You could walk down Colby or Rucker Avenue and every six or seven businesses, I could say that’s a member of ours,” said Mike Pattison, the Snohomish County manager for the Master Builders.
Though an organization like the Master Builders can only directly contribute up to $1,200 to candidates for local office under state code, there’s a way around that cap. They spent the money as independent expenditures, a form of campaign spending not subject to the usual limits on election contributions. That’s because the people or groups making them can’t coordinate with the candidate about advertising they do on their behalf.
“The idea is that if these groups that are independent of the candidate are spending money on the race, it doesn’t pose the same kind of threat of corruption,” said Andrew Mayersohn, a researcher for OpenSecrets, a non-partisan organization that researches money in politics.
Bader’s opponent, Demi Chatters, and Judith Martinez, who is running for Position 7, are the only two other Everett City Council candidates to receive independent expenditures so far this year: just over $400 each from progressive advocacy organization Fuse Washington.
In an email after The Daily Herald’s deadline Friday, Chatters wrote Bader’s independent expenditures are “an illustration of the lengths that the well-connected will go to in order to protect and maintain the do-nothingness of the status quo.”
She added the Builders “benefit greatly from maintaining the combination of crushingly high rents and low vacancy rates that are draining the resources of working families, jeopardizing our elders’ ability to age in place, and causing our young folks to lose hope that they will ever be able to afford a home here in their own community.”
Only one other candidate for local office in Washington has been aided by outside spending from the Master Builders. The group paid for about $7,000 in advertising to support of Renton City Council candidate Randy Corman.
“Those were, you have to remember, contested primaries,” Pattison said, referring to Bader and Corman’s races. “There weren’t that many contested primaries where independent expenditures might have been relevant.”
Pattison said the Builders feel “extremely strongly that we’ve got to get Everett on the right track and we’re willing to make the investment to help make that happen.”
He emphasized public safety and public health crises in explaining why the Builders support Bader, citing the fentanyl epidemic and “increased crime.”
“We have member companies in Everett whose employees don’t feel safe walking to their cars after work,” he said.
He mentioned businesses dealing with vandalism and having to call the police to move people from their property.
The Everett Police Officers Association, the Everett Police Management Association and county Prosecutor Jason Cummings have all endorsed Bader.
“He’s always very supportive of law enforcement,” Pattison said.
He couldn’t point to specific instances where Bader showed support for law enforcement in his time on the council, but said Bader had shown his commitment in interviews with the association.
Bader was on the council in 2020, when he sided with approving a $6 million federal grant for the police department. City Council members had initially been reluctant to accept the grant because it wouldn’t fully cover the cost of hiring new officers, meaning the city would have to pay the rest. In the end, the vote was 6-1 in favor.
In 2021, Bader was also a proponent of Everett’s first controversial “no sit, no lie” law prohibiting sitting or lying down in the blocks around the Everett Gospel Mission.
At his suggestion, the council made the city’s first Pallet shelter program contingent on “no sit” passing.
Pattison said the Builders’ backing was unrelated to Bader’s support for “no sit.”
He also said Bader had “a strong record on housing,” pointing to the former council member’s experience working on updates to the city’s comprehensive plan. Pattison also noted his “deep roots in Everett.”
“We feel Everett has done well with managing growth,” allowing for denser and more varied housing, Pattison said, “and Scott was a part of that.”
Bader said he frequently agrees with the Builders’ positions on issues, though he more often comes down on the side of protecting single-family zoning.
It’s difficult to prove the extent to which independent expenditures influence candidates.
However, “it would be hard to imagine that doesn’t shape behavior in some way,” said Mayersohn, the OpenSecrets researcher, whose expertise is at the federal level.
Bader said he did not think the money would influence him, adding he is willing to listen to whoever wants to talk to him.
“It’s the voters that I have to answer to,” he said, “not someone who gives money.”
This article has been updated to include comment Demi Chatters sent after The Daily Herald’s deadline.