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October 26, 2011 at 4:26 PM

Independent-expenditure battle in Bellevue council races

Posted by Keith Ervin

Independent expenditures in the hotly contested Bellevue City Council elections have topped $40,000, according to official reports, and could reach $100,000.

Money supporting John Stokes and incumbent Claudia Balducci is coming from environmentalists, bicyclists, the liberal statewide organization Fuse, and soon, Fuse's director says, from Bellevue firefighters.

Stokes, Balducci and incumbent John Chelminiak also got a boost from Move Bellevue Forward, a group that has prodded the City Council to support Sound Transit's light-rail plans. Reported expenditures by all those groups totals $32,560.

The only reported expenditure on the other side, so far, is $7,553 spent by the Eastside Business Alliance to help Stokes' opponent, Aaron Laing. But more is coming -- and a key contributor is light-rail foe Kemper Freeman.

Freeman, along with fellow Bellevue developer Bob Wallace and Issaquah developer Skip Rowley, gave a combined $69,000 to the newly created Eastside Leadership Committee last week, which passed on $63,400 to Friends of Bellevue Families and Neighborhoods.

Freeman, Wallace and Rowley said last week they don't know how the Friends committee, controlled by political consultant Brett Bader, will spend the money, except that Rowley expects at least some of it to help Laing.

Bader, asked about the new committee Wednesday, replied, "I can't say anything at all."

Freeman's Kemper Holdings contributed $25,000 to the Eastside Business Committee and Kemper Development gave $2,500 to the Chamber of Commerce-affiliated Eastside Business Alliance, which also supports candidates outside Bellevue.

Fuse set up a political committee, Eastside Progress, to help Stokes and Balducci withstand the heavy spending by Freeman and his allies, Fuse Executive Director Aaron Ostrom said. Fuse, Washington Conservation Voters, and the Cascade Bicycle Club's Bike PAC have contributed to Eastside Progress.

Ostrom said he expects Bike PAC and Bellevue firefighters to contribute to a second round of expenditures, which could include a mailing exclusively in support of Stokes, who entered the race months later than Laing and has fewer campaign dollars.

"We see it as a real test of whether one conservative, wealthy developer is going to be allowed to control the city of Bellevue or not," Ostrom said.

Ostrom said he expects Eastside Progress to spend a total of about $30,000. That group and its allies reported to the state Public Disclosure Commission that they already spent that much, but Ostrom said it appears some expenditures were reported twice.

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