May 14, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 20


Amid looming elections, Seattle councilmembers look to revive bid for publicly financed campaign

By Aaron Burkhalter / Staff Reporter

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Seattle may get another chance to vote on a measure that would allow some candidates for city council to use public funds for their campaigns.

In the coming months, Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Nick Licata will reintroduce a proposal to create a new, six-year property tax that would be available to grassroots candidates for office. Candidates would need to raise a minimum number of small contributions in order to be eligible for matching funds from the city.

City staff estimated the program would cost property owners $0.0117 per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $4.69 a year for a house worth $400,000.

Voters narrowly rejected a similar proposal in 2013. It failed by 1,426 votes, less than half a percentage point.

Proponents say that indicates the city is ready for publicly financed campaigns, and it would take just a little more effort to get it passed in Seattle.

“If it was a good idea then, we submit that it’s a good idea now,” said John King, board president of Washington Public Campaigns, at a meeting of the city councils’ Education & Governance Committee on May 7.

Last year’s election brought another major change to the city council: Voters passed a proposal to elect city councilmembers by district. In 2015, all nine councilmembers will be up for re-election and will have to run for seven district seats and two at-large seats.

The public financing proposal must change to correspond with the new district laws.

O’Brien’s new proposal would set different eligibility and spending requirements for district and at-large positions. To be eligible, candidates for district seats would need to raise 100 to 200 individual donations of at least $10 each and could spend no more than $140,000 on the primary and general elections combined. People running for at-large seats would have the same parameters as the initial proposal: They would need to raise 600 individual donations of at least $10 and could spend no more than $245,000.

Participants in the program would receive funding by a six-to-one ratio, meaning for every $1 the candidate raises, they will receive $6 from a public fund. The match is limited to the first $50 of each donation.

In 2013, the city council unanimously passed the proposal and sent it to voters for a decision. This year, not everyone is on board. Some worry that November’s ballot will be too full; there could be multiple proposals for raising the minimum wage, two statewide gun control initiatives, a parks levy and possibly more.

“I would hate to have [public campaign financing] lose again, two elections in a row,” said Council President Tim Burgess at a May 7 meeting of the city council’s Education & Governance Committee, adding that he supports the concept.

O’Brien disagreed that full ballots could present a problem, citing past elections. In 2008, levies for the Pike Place Market, city parks and Sound Transit all shared a ballot with statewide initiatives and passed.

The number of high-profile ballot measures could increase voter participation, he said.

An issue like gun control, for example, will draw in Seattle voters who may also be likely to approve publicly financed elections, he said.

“This is actually a great year to run this again,” O’Brien said to Real Change.



WPC and other groups have been working to provide an option for candidates to leverage small political contributions from citizens in order to run credible campaigns on local Seattle issues.

Mark Early | submitted on 05/16/2014, 1:28am

Note - there is a pitiful 200 character limit to comments on this site. Tell the webmaster to REALLY CHANGE it.

Mark Early | submitted on 05/16/2014, 1:30am

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