LAKE STEVENS — Around $25,000 in campaign contributions to four Lake Stevens City Council members came from donors with ties to real estate and development.
That’s about half of the four incumbents’ total campaign dollars reported as of Oct. 8.
Together, their opponents have reported less than $500 in contributions from any person or business affiliated with property development or sale. However, two of the four — Michele Hampton and Joyce Copley — chose the Public Disclosure Commission’s mini-reporting option, meaning they are not disclosing their finances because they will not raise more than $5,000 in campaign money.
According to contributions reported to the PDC as of Oct. 8, incumbent Gary Petershagen has raised over $18,000, with nearly $10,000 coming from real estate businesses, developers or political action committees. Likewise, incumbent Steve Ewing has raised more than $15,000 in contributions, around $8,000 of which comes from real estate investors or developers.
“Campaign contributions from corporations, or from unions or from political action committees that are representing those interests, are really meant to make elected officials responsive to (their) requests,” said Pete Quist, OpenSecrets deputy research director. OpenSecrets is a non-partisan, non-profit political-influence research organization.
Petershagen took a call from a Herald reporter, but did not answer followup questions.
Ewing asked to receive questions via email.
A reporter sent questions to his campaign email Monday morning. He was asked about his expected total campaign expenditures and five questions about how his donors influence his decision-making. Ewing sent a statement and, in a phone call, said he didn’t see the email.
“Since I did not receive any specific questions from you, below is a general statement regarding my campaign contributions,” Ewing said via email Tuesday afternoon. “Lake Stevens is the safest city in Snohomish County and one of the safest in the state. I am honored to have received Governor Inslee’s 2021 Smart Communities Award in recognition of outstanding achievement in creating thriving communities, a prosperous economy, and sustainable infrastructure in Washington State.”
Ewing attached an image of the award to the email.
Over 70% of incumbent Marcus Tageant’s campaign dollars are from Lake Stevens developers, both directly and through political action committees, according to contributions reported to the PDC as of Oct. 8.
Tageant did not return a reporter’s call.
Incumbent Kim Daughtry has raised the fewest total dollars, but about half of his campaign funds come from the same sources with real estate ties.
“People think you’re bought off by the developers. Now I understand that,” Daughtry said. “As far as I’m concerned, (that’s) rhetoric. … Just because somebody wants to donate to your campaign, because they like what you do on the council, doesn’t mean that you’re being bought by them. I mean, I’ve got a developer that is no longer developing. He gave me money because he likes the way I’m doing things.”
Daughtry said he plans to return unspent money to the contributors.
Meanwhile in Edmonds, three incumbent City Council candidates raised about $2,500 through those with ties to property development.
The two cities have roughly the same population. Edmonds is a little bigger, but Lake Stevens has been catching up.
In the decade preceding 2010, Lake Stevens quadrupled in population. Around 2012, Lake Stevens made long-range plans for more commercial districts and high-density neighborhoods.
One of the city’s major rezones changed land from residential to commercial and mixed-use in 2014, near the intersection of Soper Hill Road and Highway 9. This rezone was “applicant-driven,” Russ Wright, community development director for the city, told The Daily Herald in July.
In 2017, The Herald reported on “explosive” growth underway in Lake Stevens. The population now sits near 36,000, according to the 2020 Census.
Today, bright orange construction fences line projects across the city, including several housing developments, a gas station surrounded by bulldozed earth on Soper Hill Road and the massive Costco store.
Who are the developers?
As of this month, nearly $30,000 in donations to a political action committee came from the same strip mall in south Lake Stevens. The PAC, known as Responsible Economic Growth in our Neighborhood, contributed $4,000 total to the Lake Stevens incumbents, as well as more cash to re-elect incumbents in the city of Snohomish and the Snohomish County Council.
According to the PAC’s website, current as of Oct. 13, it was established in 2019 “primarily to address mounting concerns over restrictive land use policy and its consequences to the health of our state’s economy.”
Four contributors to the PAC — Land Pro Group, Gallery Capital, Superior Concrete and Toyer Strategic Advisors — have addresses at 10515 and 10519 20th Street SE. The PAC lists an address there, too. The property is owned by Southlake Holdings, registered under Tim Kaintz and Ty Reoh.
Reoh owns Gallery Capital and Toy Garage, a car, boat and RV storage warehouse in the city. Toy Garage donated $1,000 to Petershagen, and Gallery Capital donated $10,000 to the PAC.
Kaintz is both the property owner and applicant on a proposed Soper Hill development that abuts the Lake Stevens city line. The application was submitted Sept. 15.
In total, Lake Stevens council incumbents received about $6,000 directly from Reoh, Kaintz and their businesses this campaign cycle.
Daughtry said one developer investing in incumbents’ campaigns “knows more about this city and the land of this city than anybody.”
Lake Stevens developer Land Pro Group donated $1,000 to each incumbent, the maximum allowed under state regulations. Owner Pat McCourt is listed as the primary applicant to build a 36-lot housing development at 10212 S Lake Stevens Road.
“Patrick McCourt … He’s probably walked every square inch of every piece of property in the city,” Daughtry said. “And he knows what can be built where. … He’s a very smart guy when it comes to development.”
In the 1990s, The Seattle Times reported McCourt “mastered the path” of development.
“But there’s more to his formula: special relationships with public officials in Snohomish County, built on inside information, favors and his own conflicting roles,” The Times reported.
According to the county’s ethics commission, the real-estate developer began doing business in Lake Stevens in 1996. McCourt has also put money in local candidates’ pockets for years.
In 2006, he cut Steve Hobbs a check shortly after the Democratic challenger unseated Republican Dave Schmidt for a seat in the state Senate. The Herald reported McCourt “stood solidly behind Schmidt and then sent Hobbs $700 on Nov. 24,” cutting him a post-election check. Hobbs, of Lake Stevens, is now the influential chairman of the Transportation Committee.
McCourt did not return a Herald reporter’s call.
“It is important to know who is funding your candidates political campaigns,” said Quist, the OpenSecrets researcher. “And especially for incumbents who may be making laws or ordinances, currently, while they’re receiving those contributions.”
The campaign contribution data, business, and property sale information used in this article were current as of Oct. 8, according to the Public Disclosure Commission, Snohomish County Assessor’s Office and Secretary of State Corporations & Charities Division.
Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @BredaIsabella.