City Councilmembers consider emptying their war chests
Seattle City Councilmembers collectively have more than $220,000 left over from their last elections, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.
Call them war chests or rollovers, they could be a thing of the past if the city council passes a reform to campaign financing Oct. 15.
The council is expected to consider revisions that would require candidates to return any leftover campaign money to donors or donate the funding to a charity. Additionally, the newly elected councilmembers would have two years of legislating before they could begin collecting donations or pledges for their re-election. The law bans any fundraising until Jan. 1 of the year before an election. Someone running for office in 2015, for example, could not start raising money until Jan. 1, 2014.
“I think it’s a great step,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who introduced an even broader reform earlier this summer.
The entire council joined the Government Performance and Finance Committee Sept. 19 to examine the legislation, which eventually passed out of committee with amendments and just two dissenting votes. Councilmembers Bruce Harrell, who has no rollover money for his 2015 reelection, and Tom Rasmussen, who has $104,526 waiting, voted against the proposal.
Harrell and Rasmussen each offered alternatives that would require candidates to ask donors if it’s OK to hang onto the excess funding.
The bill solves a nonexistent problem, Rasmussen said, and could inhibit new political candidates from starting to raise money early to defeat a well-known incumbent.
“We see incumbents defeated regularly, we see incumbents with surplus funds defeated,” Rasmussen said. “We see actually great diversity on the council from 2003 to today.”
The group did narrow the scope of O’Brien’s proposal. The original proposal banned candidates from collecting donations until Jan. 1 prior to the election. The legislation going before the full council later this month allows another year of fundraising.
Even if it passes, the six city councilmembers who have rollover money now — everyone except Harrell and Sally Bagshaw — will have 30 days to move their current balance into a re-election account, said Wayne Barnett, executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.
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