Currently viewing the tag: "Public Disclosure Commission"

The Washington State Governor’s race is far and away attrracting the most money this year, followed by the race for Washington State Atttorney General. Through May 2012 Jay Inslee (D) and Rob McKenna (R) have each raised over $6 million dollars.  The next campaign finance report through June 0f 2012 will be released July 10th. Full reports and contributor’s names are available on the Washington State  Public Disclosure website.

here are the most recent reported numbers:

Name                                       Raised                                  Spent                             Owed

Governor

Jay Inslee (D)                         $6,195,567                           $2,604,808                $131,065

Rob McKenna  (R)                $6,333,189                           $2,601,872                  $58.028

Lieutenant Governor

William Finkbinder (R)          $103,327                                 $39,869

Brad Owens (D)                        $134,017                                  $78,134

Attorney General

Reagan Dunn (R)                    $878,303                               $358,223                    $1,756

Robert Ferguson (D)               $852,147                                $303,231                 $46,074

Auditor

Troy Kelley (D)                       $107,584                                  $12,956                   $10,254

Mark Milosca (D)                     $61,287                                  $29,471

Craig Pridemore (D)               $115,190                                  $43,167                    $5,500

James Watkins  (R)                 $45,515                                   $11,23o                  $20,000

Public Lands Commissioner

Clint Didier  (R)                         $4150                                       $1659                      $1656

Peter Goldmark  (D)            $289,626                                  $98,268

Insurance Comissioner

Mike Kreidler (D)                  $87,000                                   $29,665

Martin Reilly (R)                      $9,937                                    $7400

Secretary of State

Kathleen Drew                     $101,598                                       $75,429                   $3800

James Kastama (D)              $52,524                                        $37,215

Gregory Nickels (D)            $105,661                                       $57,667                 $10,700

Kimberly Wyman (R)         $102,443                                       $41,105                   $1,103

Superintendent of Public Instruction

Randy Dorn (N)                    $99,522                                      $60,532

Treasurer

James McIntire (D)             $83,642                                        $35,671                    $8,584

no opponent

 

 

 

Representative Sharon Nelson is the prime sponsor of HB 1289. HB1289 would limit campaign contributions to candidates for public lands commissioner in Washington State from persons or entities that are regulated by, contract with, lease to or sell commodities to the public lands commissioner.

They could not “directly or indirectly pay or use, or offer or consent, or agree to pay or use any money or thing of value for or in aid of any candidate for the office of public lands commissioner: nor for reimbursement or indemnification of any person for money or property so used.”

The bill is patterned after a similar law limiting insurance companies from spending money for the State Insurance Commissioner race.

HB 1289 is proposed because a big loophole exists in Washington State’s campaign finance laws. They make a mockery of the supposed intent to limit special interest money in elections. This was evident in the 2008 race to elect the Washington State Public Lands Commissioner this last November.

Our current state law limits campaign contributions to a statewide candidate to $1600 for the Primary and $1600 for the General election. And on first look that appears to be what happened. If you check the contributions given to Republican incumbent Doug Sutherland’s campaign and to Democrat challenger Peter Goldmark’s campaign from individuals and corporations everything appears fine. None exceed $3200 total. Everyone seems to have an equal limit in their contributing money to try to influence the outcome of the election.

There is however no limit in Washington State on the amount of money that can be contributed to so called independent PAC’s supporting a candidate. And companies and individuals who benefited from contracts with the Department of Natural Resources repeated what they did 4 years previously in helping to get Sutherland re-elected then.

According to the Washington Public Disclosure reports they contributed lavishly to a PAC called the Committee for Balanced Stewardship. which spent some $573,000 on mailings to voters across the State urging them to re-elect Sutherland. The PAC was funded by contributions of a few special interests that benefited by receiving contracts from the DNR for timber harvest and other resource extraction like gravel. Their contributions greatly exceeded the $3200 they could have given if they contributed it directly to Sutherland. The companies that exceeded the $3200 limit are listed below:

Weyerhauser, Federal Way $100,000
Rayonier, Jacksonville, FL $75,000
Hampton Affiliates, Portland, OR $75,000
Glacier Northwest, Seattle, WA $50,000
Sierra Pacific Industries, Redding, CA $25,000
Green Diamond Resource Company, Shelton, WA $25,000
Longview Timber Company, Longview, WA $25,000
Green Crow, Port Angeles, WA $25,000
Murray Pacific, Tacoma, WA $20,000
Stimson Lumber Company, Portland, OR $20,000
Port Blakely Tree Farms, $20,000
Olympic Resource Management, Poulsbo, WA $15,000
Green Diamond Resource Company, Shelton, WA $12,500
Simpson, Tacoma, WA $12,500
M&R Services, Inc $5000
Vaughn Brothers, Colville, WA $5000

According to Brad Shanon of the Olympian, business interests objected to HB1289 at a recent hearing before the Legislature. No surprise there since they were the ones working the loophole to their advantage.

It is an affront to the speech and participation rights of Washington businesses in the political process,” Kris Tefft of the Association of Washington Business said of the proposed bill. “It imposes content restrictions on one side of a political debate while leaving free rein on the other side.” …
The Washington Forest Protection Association and Washington Aggregates and Concrete Association also weighed in against the bill.”

The business conflict of interest was obvious in Sutherland’s granting Glacier Northwest the right to remove gravel from Maury Island in a marine protected area and his granting of geoduck rights to a company that used public tidelands that it hadn’t leased originally.

On Feb 10, 2009 Goldmark announced that he was going to review the lease granted to Glacier Northwest just before Sutherland left office. As noted by the Tacoma News Tribune:

“Goldmark said his staff will review whether the 30-year lease signed by Doug Sutherland with a subsidiary of Glacier Northwest is consistent with the long-term sustainability and health of Puget Sound.

“I have concerns about how this dock will impact the long-term sustainability and cleanup of Puget Sound,” Goldmark said. “When these leases are signed, Washingtonians expect due diligence, and we must review this deal to make sure it is in lockstep with the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Plan.”

The lease allows the company to build a barge-loading pier on state aquatic lands in the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve.”

Washington state has at least several ways it can try to reduce the influence of independent special interest money in elections. HB 1289 of course is one approach to deal with a specific office. But independent expenditures by special interests are not limited to the Public Lands Commissioner race.

The BIAW (Building Industry Association of Washington) has spent enormous amounts of money trying to influence the outcome of specific elections, like the Washington State Supreme Court races, Governor, Attorney General and other races.

Other states limit such independent contributions to PACs. Here are some examples:

Alaska $500 per individual; corporations and unions prohibited
Connecticut $500/calendar year per individual, corporation or union
Massachusetts $500/calendar year; corporations and unions prohibited
Rhode Island $1000/calendar year; corporations and unions prohibited
South Carolina $3500/calendar year per individual, corporation, or union
Vermont $2000/2 year/election cycle per individual, corporation or union
West Virginia $1000/election; corporations and unions prohibited

You can check out the complete list of limitations on contributions to PACs by going to the National Conference of State Legislatures webpage .

Another way to try to limit the influence of independent contributions by PACs is to look at public financing of campaigns. See Washington Public Campaigns. They are pushing a bill this year in the Washington State legislature for public financing of Washington State Supreme Court races, arguing that” justice should not be for sale.”

Peter Goldmark is the Democrat running for Public Lands Commissioner in Washington State. According to the latest Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) reports Peter Goldmark has out raised his Republican opponent Doug Sutherland, the incumbent, $841,775 to $578,052. Goldmark’s fundraising is impressive considering that about 50% of Sutherland’s money is coming from timber and mining interests.

But lurking in the shadows is an independent PAC called the Committee for Balanced Stewardship. It has a war chest totalling $594,910. In 2004 this same committee spent over $322,000 doing last minute mailers supporting Doug Sutherland’s campaign for Public Lands Commissioner. Sutherland won that race against Mike Cooper.

The Committee for Balanced Stewardship is going to again spend all its money to try to re-elect Sutherland. But something is wrong when a special interest PAC comprised of mostly timber interests is raising more money to support the candidate than the candidate is raising.

And to top things off many of these timber and mining interests are giving to both campaign committees. Over half of the contributions to Sutherland campaign are from timber and mining interests.

Contributions directly to Sutherland’s campaign are limited to $1600 per election (primary and general are separate elections). But the same contributor giving money to a PAC like the so called Committee for Balanced Growth can contribute as much as they want to try to influence the outcome of the election.

That’s why you’ll see Weyerhauser has given Sutherland’s campaign $1400 but has also given the Committee for Balanced Stewardship $100,000. So much for limiting the influence of big money in elections. As long as the loophole exists that money given to a so-called independent PAC has no limits, companies like Weyerhauser will use their corporate dollars to try to disproportionately influence the outcome of the election to get their candidate elected.

This loophole gives big money interests that stand to profit from the election of their candidate a decided and unfair advantage in trying to influence the outcome of the election. Regular donors who give directly to the candidate, see their ability to affect the outcome of the election diminished.

The loophole as written for no limits on contributions to independent PAC’s says if you are wealthy or have corporate money to spend, you have a huge advantage in trying to affect the outcome of the election by your greater ability to reach the voters with your message.

So who is basically skirting campaign contributions limits to Sutherland by giving to the so-called independent PAC. Here’s the list of corporate interests donating to the Committee for Balanced Stewardship that is trying to keep Republican Sutherland in office:

Weyerhauser, Federal Way,WA $100,000

Hampton Affiliates, Portland, OR $75,000

Rayonier, Jacksonville, FL $75,000

Glacier NW, Port Angeles, WA $50,000

Green Crow, Port Angeles, WA $25,000

Sierra Pacific Industries, Redding, CA $25,000

Port Blakely Tree Farms, Tumwater, WA $20,000

Stimson Lumber Co, Portland, OR $20,000

Longview Timber Co, Longview, WA $25,000

Green Diamond, Shelton, WA $25,000

Olympic Resource Mgt, Poul;sbo, WA $15,000

Simpson, Tacoma, WA $12,500

Murray Pacific, Tacoma, WA $20,000

Vaagen Brothers, Colville, WA $5000

With the Committee for Balanced Stewardship’s money and Sutherland’s campaign money, timber and mining interests will comprise about 3/4 of the money spent to try to re-elect Doug Sutherland. They want to keep their cozy relationship with the current Commissioner of Public Lands. All the more reason to vote for Peter Goldmark. Public lands should be for public good not private gain.

 

In a press release earlier today, Knoll Lowney of Smith & Lowney stated that:

Today, lawyers for gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi indicated that Rossi will fight the subpoena that requires him to testify under oath as to his role in the illegal fundraising campaign of the Building Industry Association of Washington(“BIAW”), which is currently being prosecuted by the State Attorney General. “

You can catch the current King 5 news report here on YouTube.

You can see last week’s King 5 news reports here.

Lowney noted that a separate lawsuit was filed last week by former Washington State Supreme Justices Faith Ireland and Robert F. Utter regarding Republican Rossi’s alleged collaboration with the BIAW’s massive fundraising effort to swing the Governor’s race in favor of Republican Rossi.

The BIAW has a war chest of $3.5 million which it is spending opposing incumbent Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire and supporting Republican Dino Rossi. Under state law contributions directly to candidates are limited to $1600 per election for state wide office.

No such limit apples unfortunately for so-called independent PAC’s which is what the BIAW is claiming their PAC’s like ChangePAC and It’s Time for a Change are. But independent means just that – there can be no collaboration between the candidate and the so-called independent committee.

The irony here is that the BIAW actually asked for an interpretation of what independent meant in 2004. The answer seems pretty clear. In a memorandum dated June 15, 2004, written by Susan Harris, Assistant Director of the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission she stated a no answer to the following:

Tim Harris, General Counsel for BIAW, has asked whether a candidate may solicit funds for a political committee (PAC) that would make independent expenditures in support of that candidate, if the candidate:
(1) has no say with respect to the spending of the PAC or other content of the message;
(2) would not encourage or approve the actual specific expenditure; and
(3) would not otherwise collaborate with any PAC officials regarding the expenditure?

Staff believes the answer to the question is no. Not all of the elements of an Independent Expenditure as defined in RCW 42.17.020(24)(a) could be satisfied.

….., the definition of “independent expenditure” includes a four part test in RCW 42.17.020(24)(a). Each of the four parts must be met in order for the expenditure to satisfy the definition. The circumstances posed by BIAW fail two of the four parts.
Specifically, subdivision (iii) requires that the spender not be a person who has received the candidate’s “encouragement,” and subdivision (iv) says the candidate and the spender may not have “collaborated for the purpose of making the expenditure,” when the expense pays for political advertising supporting that candidate or opposing that candidate’s opponent.

Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary defines “encourage” as: “1. To inspire with hope, courage or confidence: HEARTEN; 2. To give support to: FOSTER; 3. To stimulate.”

One of the most fundamental ways a candidate could encourage a person to purchase political advertising supporting that candidate is to help make sure that person has sufficient funds to undertake an effective advertising effort. Assisting a PAC in fundraising fosters that committee’s ability to make the political advertising expenditure benefiting the candidate. As such, the PAC expenditure is not sufficiently removed from the candidate to qualify as an independent expenditure.

Collaborate” is defined in Webster’s as: 1. To work together, esp. in a joint intellectual effort; 2. To cooperate treasonably, as with an enemy occupying one’s country.

Staff is of the opinion that if a candidate solicits contributions for a PAC by, for example, referring potential contributors to the committee, putting a link to the PAC’s website on his or her campaign website, or referencing the PAC in his or
her own campaign literature, then the candidate and the PAC are working together for the purpose of making a political advertising expenditure. That collaboration disqualifies any resulting expenditure from the definition of independent expenditure.
Based on a reasonable application of the definition of independent expenditure that is consistent with the intent of the statute, staff is recommending the Commission find that if a candidate assists a PAC in fundraising and the PAC then undertakes political advertising supporting that candidate or promoting the defeat of that candidate’s opponent, that expenditure does not satisfy the definition of “independent expenditure.”
Examples of fundraising assistance include helping the PAC identify potential contributors, referring potential contributors to the PAC, and referencing the PAC on the candidate’s website or in his or her literature.

If the BIAW and Rossi had complied with this memo they would not be in court now. My guess is that the BIAW decided to ignore this memorandum, realizing they could spend millions of dollars supporting Rossi and the worst they would face would be a fine of a few thousand dollars. The cost of trying to skirt the laws and put Republican Rossi in the Governor’s seat would be a pittance compared to what the BIAW would gain by having their ally as Governor..

Maybe the Court should fine them the total amount of their illegal campaign spending. That would certainly get their attention.

Attorney General Rob McKenna is in a tough spot. The PDC has asked the Washington State Attorney General to consider legal action against the BIAW – the Building Industry Association of Washington. But the BIAW PACS are his friends and contibuted heavily to McKenna’s election in 2004.

As reported in the Seattle Times on Wednesday:

The state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) ruled Monday that the builders violated several campaign laws by not properly reporting more than $500,000 in contributions that passed through a BIAW subsidiary and to a political-action committee, ChangePAC, opposing Gregoire.
The PDC referred the case to McKenna’s office, which will decide by Friday whether to pursue legal action.

What the article doesn’t mention is that Rob McKenna has a clear conflict of interest and needs to recuse himself from this case. MajorityRules Blog wrote about this in several of its early posts in 2005. Rob McKenna benefited from donations given to BIAW’s ChangePAC 2004 which shuffled the money to another of its PAC’s “It’s Time for a Change”.

Change PAC, Change PAC 2004, and It’s Time for a Change are all BIAW PAC’s. The same mailing address appears for all 3 PAC’s, namely PO Box 1909, Olympia, WA 98507. Elliott Swaney, the BIAW’s Political Affairs Director has been the treasurer for all 3 PAC’s and the phone number listed for contact information 360-352-7800 is the main phone number for the BIAW’s office in Olympia.

It’s Time for a Change raised some $1,058,539 in 2004. A quick look shows that ChangePAC 2004 contributed some $867,818 of that amount in cash. Because Swaney was the treasurer of both organizations one wonders if he put the check in the mail when he sent it from PO Box 1909 to PO Box 1909.

One wonders where the PDC was on all this because the BIAW never listed these PAC’s as affiliated with them.

The BIAW’s It’s Time for a Change also deliberately obscured how it was spending over $200 thousand dollars by not clearly identifying what candidate it was making specific expenditures for or against. BIAW’s “It’s Time for a Change” spent a minimum of $415,580 in independent expenditures on the McKenna/Senn race for Attorney General in 2004 – supporting Rob McKenna and opposing Deborah Senn.

It appears to have spent some $421,427 opposing Chris Gregoire and supporting Dino Rossi for Governor. The only identified additional expenditure was $12,500 to support Jim Johnson for State Supreme Court.

This leaves some $208,714 that is not identified as to who it was spent supporting or oposing. If all of this money was spent for Rob McKenna, he was the beneficiary of up to $624,294 collected by the BIAW.

Rob McKenna needs to appoint an independent prosecutor to look at this case and decide what to do. He is too close to the problem. Rob McKenna personally thanked the BIAW after the election in 2004 for their “independent efforts” to help get him elected.

One has to question just how vigerously an Attorney General who benefited by the actions of the BIAW’s PAC’s in 2004 would go after prosecuting the current violations alleged by the PDC.

Rob McKenna has a clear conflict of interest in this case.

Tim Eyman and friends are once again in violation of Washington State’s Public Disclosure laws. This morning MajorityRulesBlog filed an official compliant with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission regarding the lack of filing of campaign contribution and expenditure reports for Initiative 985.

In a phone call this morning I confirmed with the PDC that there was no error on their part – no reports have been received by them from Eyman besides a C1pc on initial formation of a committee entitled Reduce Congestion.org on January 3, 2008. ReduceCongestion.org has not updated this report with any additional information or reported any contributions or expenditures as of today, Feb 14, 2008. The deadline for filing Jan reports is Feb 10, 2008.

Yet they have sent mailings to people soliciting money, have a website up asking for money on behalf of ReduceCongestion.org which they secured on Dec. 18, 2007 , and are sending out e-mail asking for money.

Voters Want More Choices notes a Dec 30, 2007 pledge to Reduce Congestion.org of $42,029,77 yet there is no report from Reduce Congestion.org of any such pledge. There is also a Feb 11, 2008 report by Help Us Help Taxpayers for a pledge made in January of $7,650.02 to ReduceCongestion.org for January office compensation.

ReduceCongestion.org (Initiative 985) has printed up and mailed out petitions yet there are no reported expenses of any kind by the campaign. For all intents and purposes anyone checking public disclosure records would be lead to falsely believe that no money has been raised or spent on behalf on Initiative 985 by Reduce Congestion.org . This is obviously false.

Public Disclosure be Damned! So say Dino Rossi and the BIAW in their early starting rematch with Governor Christine Gregoire. Both are conducting efforts to get Rossi elected and both are not reporting to the PDC their real campaign efforts .

As Andrew over at the NW Progressive Blog writes in his post Walking for Washington, the BIAW (Building Industry Association of Washington) is the main funder behind the Walking for Washington PAC which it turns out is once again a “Walking for Rossi” PAC. They have been going door to door canvassing for a number of months now asking voters survey questions starting out with a “Would you vote for Rossi or Gregoire for Governor?”‘ first question.

The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission reports that Walking for Washington has raised some $125,618 total. The BIAW gave $90,000 in cash and $15,193 in kind. The remainder was transferred from another BIAW PAC, It’s Time for a Change, which has the same BIAW address and treasurer, as the Walking for Washington PAC.

Where the BIAW and it’s Walking for Washington PAC skirt state law and are a stealth campaign, is that they never report for what candidate they are spending money doing the survey and voter id work for. They are trying to slide this work under the radar so to speak. They have never filed paperwork with the PDC declaring what candidate or candidates they are spending money supporting or opposing. They merely report expenditures for individual contractors with no mention of the race or candidate they are involved with.

In fact they repeatedly check off as no the statement “During the Reporting Period, did the committee make an independent expenditure (ie an expense not considered a contribution) supporting or opposing a state or local candidate?”

OK please explain to me how a committee which previously supported Rossi and that is asking voters about issues to micro target them and that asks them if they would vote for Rossi or Gregoire for Governor is not making an expenditure supporting Rossi and opposing Gregoire?

It is obvious that they are opposing Gregoire and supporting Rossi from both the questions asked about the Governor’s race and the fact that this is the identical work of micro targeting based on a list of issues the voters support or oppose, just as they did for Rossi in his 2004 Gubernatorial campaign.

Meanwhile Rossi himself is running as a candidate without filing with the PDC as a candidate. He is doing this through his traveling and speaking for his foundation Forward Washington. David Goldstein writes about this in a post entitled “Forward Washington, Rewind Rossi

We first wrote about this this in a post last December entitled “Rossi Starts Run for Governor

So what’s wrong with these guys? Why can’t they be straightforward with Washington voters and admit what they are up to? Why are they bending over backward to skirt state law rather than be honest with the voters as to what they are up to.

Voters should interpret this behavior for what it is - dishonesty. It is a ridiculous attempt to hide campaign activities. Who do they think they are fooling? Voters should read Rossi’s actions as indicative of the type of Governor he would be.

It portrays Rossi as a politician that you can’t trust to tell the truth or that doesn’t care to treat voters with respect. It’s one of “I don’t give a damn about public disclosure and the voters knowing what I am really doing.” Let it be a warning – a flashing light or a buzzer that gives you pause and makes you wonder just how open and honest Rossi would be as Governor.

Here’s the end of August fundraising breakdown for some of the candidates going on to the November election in King County. The figures are from the Washington Public Disclosure Commission.

King County Prosecutor

William R Sherman (D) raised $92,482 spent $66,354 cash on hand $27,128

Daniel T Satterberg (R) raised $168,790 spent $75,015 cash on hand $93,775

Seattle City Council Position 1

Jeanne Godden raised $191,288 spent $140,934

Joe Szwaja raised $47,794 spent $45,803

Seattle City Council Position 3

Bruce A Harrell raised $167,503 spent $125,902

Venus Valezquez raised $131,070 spent $104,258

Seattle City Council Position 5

Thomas M Rasmussen raised $196,915 spent $74,269

Seattle City Council Position 7

Timothy L Burgess raised $186,023 spent $114,032

David J Della raised $186,693 spent $129,052

Seattle City Council 9

Sally J Clark raised $148,541 spent $68,082

Judith L Fenton raised $3,887 spent $987

Port of Seattle Position 2

Bob Edwards raised $97,366 spent $96,593

Gael Tarleton raised $146,659 spent $118,277

Port of Seattle Position 5

Bill Bryant raised $198,631 spent $118,179

Alec Fisken raised $101,263 spent $62,450

Maybe its just the dog days of August but incumbent Seattle School Board members are not faring well in raising money compared to their challengers. Both Sally Soriano and Darlene Flynn, who are running for re-election, lag far behind their challengers in raising money.

Three candidates have raised over $40,000 each – Peter Maier, Sherry Carr, and Stephen J Sundquist. The following data is taken from reports filed on the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission website

Seattle School Board District 1

MAIER PETER L (N) 7/31/2007 raised $40,087.33 spent $9,650.83
SORIANO SALLY J (N) 7/31/2007 raised $6,034.76 spent $4,980.05

Seattle School Board District 2

CARR SHERRY L (N) 08/13/2007raised $45,889.67 spent $22,457.48
FlYNN DARLENE E (N) 08/13/2007 raised $6,655.50 spent $5,138.38
KELLEY PATRICK A (N) 08/14/2007 raised $5,645.48 spent $4,117.72
STUEBING LISA C (N) 08/13/2007 raised $22,669.63 spent $20,944.90

Seattle School Board District 3

MARTIN-MORRIS HARIUM J (N) 08/13/2007 raised $16,685.00 spent $4,167.48

Seattle School Board District 6

RAMIREZ MARIA G (N) raised $0 07/24/2007 spent $533.86
SUNDQUIST STEPHEN J (N)08/13/2007 raised $46,009.94 spent $34,636.61

Seattle School Board District 2 is the only race that will appear on the August 21, 2007 Primary ballot because the Washington State Legislature, when it changed the primary date to August from September, also cancelled primary elections in nonpartisan races with only one or two candidates running. These races will appear on the November 4, 2007 election.

8/16/2007 Correction, There are 5 candidates running for position 6 according to King County Elections. Stephen Sundquist is the only candidate who has reported raising any money for this race. None of the other 4 candidates, including Ramirez have reported raising any money. Besides one mention of an expenditure of $534 by Ramirez no other report shows up on the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission website under searches for registration, contributions or expenditures by candidates for the other 4 candidates.
So there will be a primary vote for District 6. My mistake, you can get your name on the ballot without having to raise lots of money. Winning is something else.

The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission today voted to recommend that new limits be placed on large contributions corrupting the political process in Washington State. The limits would affect corporations, PAC’s and associations.

According to the Seattle Times

The five-member commission voted unanimously to ask Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature to consider prohibiting groups such as the Building Industry Association of Washington and the Service Employees International Union to give their general funds directly to political action committees that support or oppose candidates. The groups would also be prohibited from using general funds for independent expenditures such as TV or radio ads.
The ban would apply to state offices, including the governor, the Legislature and the Supreme Court.

The commission also wants leaders to consider limiting the annual amount of money individuals or PACs can contribute to other PACs.

We think its high time that the Legislature enact further measures to stop special interests from trying to buy votes from the public. While they may not be putting dollars in people’s pockets like in old, the ability of wealthy organizations like the BIAW to saturate the political process with uncontrolled spending subverts the idea of fair elections.

We are only allowed one vote per person. Yet we know that dollars buy access to the public. Your vote becomes meaningless unless all candidates have fair access to get their campaign message before the voters and are not swamped by special interest megaspending.

The state can help this process by limiting what any individual can give, either directly or indirectly to any candidate. With computers and electronic campaign finance reporting it is easy to keep tabs of how much anyone gives to support or oppose a candidate. Being limited to giving $1400 per election directly to a statewide candidate but being allowed also to give $400,000 to a so called independent PAC that is also spending money to elect that candidate, means you really have no limits on campaign contributions.

Any limit imposed has to be calculated as a total given to a candidate, either directly to the candidate’s registered committee or indirectly to any other campaign committee including a committee of one (an expenditure by a wealthy patron on his own) that is supporting the candidate. Then the influence of concentrated money by special interests is eliminated.

A balancing needs to take place between the rights of free speech and special interest domination of the electoral process such that a narrow special interest can gain an unfair advantage in placing someone they support in office who then acts preferentially toward the donor while fulfilling their duties of office.

The state can go a long way toward reducing the influence of special interest money in elections by providing more public forums and debates among the candidates. For example, State sponsored candidate forums run by the Secretary of State’s Office for the public and press and media in an area that comprises one to two Congressional Districts would got a long way toward helping expose candidates to voters. That means a minimum of 5 to a maximum of 9 candidate forums before the primary and another series for the general election.

Such publicly sponsored forums would help to offset the argument that restricting large donors discriminates against certain candidates and limits their free speech rights.

Another approach is a system of publicly financed campaigns. See Washington Public Campaigns which is pushing for a bill for public financing of judicial races in Washington State in the upcoming Legislative session starting in January. A bill is currently being drafted to be introduced.

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