The race for Public Lands Commissioner in Washington State is over. Democrat Peter Goldmark has been declared the winner by the Associated Press. He ousted 8 year incumbent Republican Doug Sutherland.
The latest returns on the Secretary of State’s election site posted at 10:16 AM today show the race still tight. Goldmark leads with 1,059,007 votes (50.85%) to Sutherland’s 1,023,553 votes (49.15%). The difference is some 35,454 votes.
Goldmark out raised his opponent $1,055,464 to $601,351. However special interests like Weyerhauser gave money to the so-called independent PAC- the Committee for Balanced Stewardship to raise an additional $573,000 to support Sutherland.
This allowed Weyerhauser to skirt normal campaign contribution limits of $1600 per election for a candidate for statewide offices and contribute $100,000 to support Sutherland’s candidacy.
In addition the independent PAC – Realtor’s Quality of Life spent $28,780 to support Sutherland.
Contributions directly to a candidate’s committee are limited to $1600 per election or a total of $3200 for both the primary and general election. This is supposedly to reduce the influence of large money in campaigns but the loophole of unlimited contributions to independent PAC’s show how easy it is to skirt this limit.
The Washington Governor’s race also saw huge spending by so called independent PACs. The BIAW through it’s PACs contributed over $7 million to unsuccessfully try to defeat Democratic Governor Gregoire.
Both the Governor’s race and Public Lands Commissioner race were wins for Democrats being hit with huge amounts of special interest money. There is a real question that if Barack Obama had not been on the ballot as to whether or not these Democrats would still have won. The closeness of the two races raises the issue, particularly since some analysts are saying national issues affected many local races this year and that this may be a trend. Certainly the uniqueness and turnout of the Presidential race was a factor.
The idea of trying to limit the influence of huge amounts of special interest money going to PACs in Washington State is a legitimate issue to raise. The diluting by unlimited special interest contributions of the voice of those who abide by campaign spending limits is something that needs to be addressed in Washington State.
The National Conference of State Legislatures has done an analysis of state limitations on contributions to political action committees and the result is interesting. Here are some of the limits for individuals giving to PACs:
Alaska $500/yr, Arkansas $5000/yr, California $6000/election, Colorado $500/2 year cycle, Connecticut, $2000/yr, Florida $500/election, Hawaii $1000 election, Kentucky $1500/yr, Louisiana $100,000/4 yr cycle, Maryland, $4000/4 yr cycle, Massachusetts $500/year, New Hampshire $5000/election, New Jersey $7200/yr, North Carolina $4000/election, Ohio $10,670/yr, Oklahoma $5000 yr, Rhode Island $1000/yr, South Carolina $3500/yr, Vermont $2000/2 yr cycle
Meanwhile Washington State allows unlimited money from an individual to go to a PAC. Our only limit is that during the last 21 days before an election, no contributor may donate more than $5000 to a candidate or political committee.
The other limit some states impose on contributions to PACs is to limit corporate and union contributions. These include:
Alabama $500/election, Arkansas $5000/calender yr, California $6000/election, Connecticut $2000/calendar year, Florida $500/election, Hawaii $1000/election, Indiana $5000 state candidates, Louisiana $100,000 4 yr cycle, Maryland $4000/4 yr cycle, Mississippi $1000/calendar year, New Hampshire $5000/election, New Jersey $7200/yr, New York $5000 total/yr, South Carolina $3500/calendar yr, and Vermont $2000//2 yr cycle.
Meanwhile Washington State allows unlimited corporate and union contributions to PACs with the 21 day rule exception above limiting contributions to no more than $5000 in the last 21 days before an election.
Going even further, a number of states ban all corporate and union contributions to PACs including Alaska, Arizona, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
We can do things differently in Washington State. While the US Supreme Court has overturned strict spending limits, they have agreed that reasonable limits on contributions are acceptable.
Equalizing corporate and union and individual contributions to PACs to be the same limits as those to candidate campaign committees seems a reasonable way to reduce the influence of special interests with huge bankrolls from overwhelming the voice of individual voters.
A limit of $1600 to contributions to candidate campaign committees and independent PACs per election would help stop the flood of special interest contributions trying to outshout the voices of individual citizens engaging in the electoral process.