Port Commissioners Spend Public Money to Lobby for Unrestricted Campaign Contributions

A recent disturbing article in the Seattle Times shows just how out of touch some Seattle Port Commissioners are with the public they represent. The Port of Seattle lobbyist is lobbying the Washington State Legislature to oppose campaign contribution limits that the Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, other statewide office candidates and legislative candidates have to comply with.

The Port of Seattle actually encompasses King County. Homeowners help to subsidize the port by paying a portion of their property taxes to fund port operations. Besides port shipping operations, the port also operate the SeaTac Airport.

Pat Davis, President of the Port, is cited as saying the bill is “anti-democratic.” Funny thing is that when state citizens set up the original campaign contribution law, they did it by an initiative (Initiative 134) in 1992 that won by a 73% yes vote.

Pat Davis received some $56,000 that would have been prohibited by the proposed legislation. Seems to me to be a slight conflict of interest in her supporting the publicly paid Port lobbyist to oppose the legislative bill.

The reason for the legislation (3SHB 1226) actually came about because of the fact that Initiative 134 did not include the Washington State Supreme Court. In the last two elections the Building Industry Association of Washington has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into two State Supreme Court races that they won. In fact, in the most recent race, the BIAW candidate received more money from the BIAW than the other candidate received from all her contributions. According to Washington State Public Disclosure Records , Jim Johnson, the winner, raised some $538,418 to Mary Kay Becker’s $158,119.

Even if this bill passes it will still have a giant loophole. It does nothing to regulate so called independent contributions by PAC’s. Individual contributions need to be limited to a set amount per individual regardless of whether it is given directly to the candidate’s election committee or to some independent PAC that spends the money supporting the candidate. The influence of large contributions spent by entities like the BIAW circumvent the whole idea of linmiting large contributors from buying the election because they are still spent on behalf of electing that candidate even if not given to the candidate’s campaign committee. The most logical solution is to limit the amount any individual can give to an aggregiate total in a race. For example you could give $2700 total in the governor’s race. This total would include contributions directly to the candidate or to a PAC supporting the candidate or both but you could not give more than $2700 total in the governor’s race..

The BIAW spent some $569,009 of so called independent PAC money helping elect Rob McKenna Washington State state Attorney General. Giving a contribution directly to McKenna’s committee would have limited them to some $2700. Spending it separately from the candidate’s committee put no limits on how much could be raised from individual donors. That’s why on election night he personally thanked them for helping get him elected. Independent. Yeh right.

Also of note – the Republican Leadership PAC WA spent some $1,265,000 and the Realtor’s Quality of Life PAC some $101,862. Meanwhile you and I, if we had it, were limited to giving $2700 maximun in the race. Sounds fair right. This needs to change!

3SHB has passed the House and has had a hearing in the Senate. Urge your State Senator to support the bill. While it does only half the job, it is a step in the right direction.

Note- the contribution limit this year is $1400 for the primary and $1400 for the general election – for a total of $2800. The limit is adjusted by the state Public Disclosure Commission every 2 years to reflect inflation.

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