Tuesday’s Primary in Washington State brought into focus a number of things that need changing in campaign finance law. The major change needed is to limit all contributions trying to affect the election to the same amount per person, whether going directly to the candidate or indirectly to any PAC trying to help the candidate.
In terms of trying to affect the outcome of the election it doesn’t matter where the money goes.
Its all being used to try to elect the same person.
The Legislature needs to end this current loophole in campaign financing. They made an effort earlier this year to try to limit huge spending in judicial races but they left this huge loophole by not also limiting contribution amounts to so called “independent” PAC’s.
We like to talk of the equality we all share in elections , that one person has one vote. We’re equal, right. Wrong – as long as some people, groups, associations can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money trying to affect the outcome of an election, we are in no way equal.
The Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) in spending a million dollars to try to anoint their own lawyer, John Groen, to the Washington State Supreme Court, vividly points out just how unequal we are in the election process.
While voters wisely appear to have rejected Groen in this election as someone beholden to a single special interest, it took a huge effort to get the word out on what was happening. And unfortunately the BIAW appears unapologetic in their belief that it is ok for them to try to buy an election with their huge financial advantage in reaching voters.
They did it 2 years ago in giving a huge financial advantage to James Johnson who won his race for Supreme Court Justice against Mary Kay Becker. They also gave huge contributions to help get libertarian Jim Saunders elected to the Court. And they came close this year to electing their third candidate.
While individuals are limited by the new law to giving judicial candidates for Supreme Court $1400 per election, they still can give an unlimited amount to an “independent” PAC to try to affect the outcome of the race. Expect to see more large contributions in the BIAW’s efforts to get Steve Johnson elected in November over sitting Justice Susan Owens.
The key change needed is to equalize one’s ability to influence the election with money, just as we equalize how many votes we each have to one when we cast a ballot. The key to doing this is to say everyone has the ability to give money up to $1400 per person to either the candidate’s committee directly or indirectly to any other PAC, association or other entity trying to influence the outcome of the election.
The BIAW will now shift its focus by trying to kick Susan Owens off the Court by helping to elect Steve Johnson in November. They will again not limit contributions they accept.
The BIAW is not alone in this. A front group calling itself Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse based in Virginia contributed $400,000 it it’s newly created Washington State PAC to support Groen.
Two years ago the US Chamber of Commerce spent $1.5 million trying to defeat Deborah Senn who was running against Rob McKenna for Washington State’s Attorney General. McKenna won
The BIAW spent hundreds of thousands of dollars independently in this race supporting McKenna and opposing Senn.
Votes decide elections and dollars help reach voters and persuade them. One person, one vote is only part of the election equation. One person, one vote means nothing if special interests can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. What everyone including PAC’s, corporation, associations need to do is abide by a $1400 per person limit to be fair to Washington’s voters.