January 15, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 3

News

To blunt the impact of Citizens United, Spokane legislator pushes campaign disclosure law

by: Aaron Burkhalter , Staff Reporter

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Two wildly different voter initiatives in 2013 benefitted from the infamous Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United, and one Spokane lawmaker hopes to change that.

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, is introducing a law this legislative session in Olympia that would require organizations to disclose the names of their contributors. It would prevent nonprofits from collecting anonymous donations and then donating to a political campaign in lump sums.

Under Billig’s law, any organization donating more than $100,000 to a statewide campaign or $20,000 to a local campaign would have to disclose the names of donors to the state Public Disclosure Commission.

“For democratic government to live up to the standards voters expect, we need transparency in how our campaigns and elections are funded,” Billig said in an email to Real Change.

If such a law existed before, it could have applied to donations in two Washington ballot initiatives in 2013, said Alex Bond, a spokesperson for Billig. The Grocery Manufacturers Association collected donations from other organizations that contributed more than $7.2 million to defeat a statewide GMO-labeling initiative, and Working Washington collected $230,000 for a campaign to establish a $15-an-hour minimum wage in the city of SeaTac.

Both campaigns outspent opponents and were supported by voters and prevailed. The Grocery Manufacturers Association eventually revealed that PepsiCo, Nestlé and Coca-Cola donated to the organization after the Washington State Attorney General sued.

The Citizens United case is rooted in the 2008 “Hillary: The Movie,” a documentary critical of then-presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. A right-leaning group, Citizens United, wanted to air the documentary within 30 days of a primary election, but the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) forbade it.

Citizens United challenged the FEC, and the Supreme Court agreed, stating that government cannot stifle the political spending of an organization.

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