This last election cycle in Washington State pointed out the vulnerability of our state judicial system to special interest money. One group, the BIAW (Building Industry Association), made a play for buying several seats on the Washington State Supreme Court to represent their special interests – interests like getting rid of growth management and zoning laws and environmental laws they didn’t like.
The BIAW’s raw power play pointed out the dangers of special interest money intent on winning no matter what the cost. The campaigning became a slug fest and saw spending records broken. It woke many people up to the reality that while the BIAW didn’t succeed this time, they or some other group could next time.
That is why there is a sudden urgent swelling of support for a solution to reduce the impact of money in elections. A grassroots citizens organization, Washington Public Campaigns, has been working for several years on public financing of campaigns and it seems it’s in the right place at the right time.
Washington Public Campaigns has 3 legislative bills they are pushing in the Legislative session starting in January in Olympia. One is to allow a local option for public campaign financing. The second is for public financing of judicial races. And the third is for public financing of all local legislative and state wide races.
Today the Seattle PI endorsed public financing of judicial races. Governor Gregoire has added $4.4 million dollars in her proposed budget to do just that. And House Majority Leader Frank Chopp has said that it is a priority of his and fellow Democrats to pass a bill. He also supports and believes that a local option for public financing will pass.
The more comprehensive bill covering state and legislative races is more of a long shot, even though both Maine and Arizona have enacted such legislation with good results. North Carolina enacted legislation for public financing of judicial races in 2002.
Its time for Washington State to take the first step and support public financing of State Supreme Court and Appellate races. The Judiciary needs to independent for it to be fair and impartial. It can not be so if court seats go to the biggest spenders.