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Transit ad campaign gets $1.1M from construction industry

Screenshot of Mass Transit Now ad on Facebook
Mass Transit Now officials had to revise this political ad, which features a government agency (UW) logo, after inquiries by KUOW.

Construction firms and other big businesses have pumped more than $2 million into the campaign to pass a Sound Transit ballot measure this fall.

While Microsoft is the biggest single donor, at $300,000, the construction industry has the most invested in the transit measure passing: $1.1 million and counting.

With the proposed package of rail and bus projects costing an estimated $54 billion, the construction sector could get a big return on its investment.

Microsoft has a long history of supporting transportation ballot measures in the Seattle area. Local tech giants Amazon and Expedia have also plunked down $100,000 each, according to the latest numbers filed by the Mass Transit Now campaign with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission.

$800,000 ad buy heading your way

Unlike most initiative campaigns, Mass Transit Now didn't have to pay for signature gathering to get on the November ballot: A vote of Sound Transit's elected board of directors put the measure on the ballot in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, bypassing the usual gathering of voter signatures by the thousands.

Top donors to Mass Transit Now initiative campaign:


The Mass Transit Now campaign can focus its dollars on advertising the measure's benefits — primarily, 62 miles of light rail lines stretching from Everett to Tacoma and east to Issaquah and Redmond — and those efforts are under way.

The campaign reported buying $800,000 worth of ads at the end of August from Screen Strategies Media of Fairfax, Virginia.

Mass Transit Now spokesperson James Canning declined to say how that money is being used.

"It's an issue of campaign strategy, so we won't be releasing any details," Canning said.

One of the campaign's new ads quickly ran afoul of the University of Washington for featuring the university's logo.

The animated ad shows lines spreading across a map of the Seattle area, indicating where new light rail service would run. As peppy music plays, the lines spread past the locations – and logos – of Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing and the University of Washington.

UW spokesperson Victor Balta said the university had not given permission to use its trademarked purple "W."

After KUOW asked about the use of the state university logo in the political ad — which could constitute a small but illegal use of public resources to influence an election — UW's trademarks office asked the campaign to remove the logo.

Campaign spokesperson James Canning said the logo is being removed from the ad.

This spring, Sound Transit officials removed an online survey question and a video after the Seattle Times and KUOWreported on the apparent use of government resources to sway an election.

Opponents of the measure known as Prop. 1 or Sound Transit 3 say it provides too little transit for the buck and could dampen taxpayers' appetite for funding other priorities like education. (Sound Transit says the measure would boost the typical adult's taxes by $169 a year.)

But opponents have raised almost no money — just $10,000. One business group, the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, has come out against the $54 billion transit measure, but it has not put any money into the fight.

Year started with KUOW: 2009