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Topic: public finance
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October 16, 2013 at 7:58 AM
The public financing concept that became Seattle Proposition 1 on the November ballot initially intrigued me. Of course, the devil’s in the details.
On Wednesday, the editorial board formally opposed Prop 1 and recommended voters pass Charter Amendment 19, a ballot measure that would move the city council from nine at-large elections to a hybrid system of seven districts and two at-large positions.
The biggest contrast between Charter Amendment 19 and Proposition 1 is cost. District elections are cheaper to run than citywide races. But with public financing, taxpayers foot the bill and have no choice where their money goes.
As we dug deeper, it became clear why Seattle Ethics and Election Commissioner Bruce Carter is a vocal opponent of Prop 1. In this Monday Seattle Times news report by reporter Bob Young, Carter called the public financing measure a “remedy in search of a problem.”
Yes, money influences politics but…
Data, however, doesn’t confirm that big money’s grip on City Hall is growing stronger.
Seattle limits contributions in council races to $700, far less than the $1,800 limits facing Metropolitan King County Council and state legislative candidates. The average contribution to City Council members in the 2011 election was $223, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC), the city’s watchdog group.
While that average has increased over time, it hasn’t climbed every year. In 2009, the average contribution dropped to $178 from $213 in 2007. There were more contributions under $100 in 2009 city races than in any election since 2001, the SEEC reported, and fewer contributions over $600.
SEEC staff members believe the 2009 numbers were driven downward by the recession.
Still, total contributions to council candidates in an election year have never topped the $1.95 million collected in 2003. To date this year, the total amount is $795,000.
Do you plan to vote for or against Prop 1? Scroll down to vote in our poll.
As much as I appreciate the high-minded sentiment behind Prop 1, it has several flaws: (more…)
June 17, 2013 at 6:07 AM
The Seattle City Council is set to vote on a proposal for public financing of campaigns for their own seats. Read our June 15 editorial. Here editorial board members Bruce Ramsey and Lynne Varner consider whether this is a good idea.
Lynne, why the push for public financing of the Seattle City Council’s election campaigns? As Seattle Ethics & Elections Commissioner Bruce Carter wrote, public financing “seems to have become a remedy in search of a problem.” There is a limit on contributions now. The average contribution in the 2011 campaigns was $231. Has the system been corrupted? Not enough for me to worry about it.
The real problem is different. It is that politicians have to go out and raise private money in order to get reelected. They don’t like doing this. It makes them feel dirty. They like spending the public’s money, but they don’t like asking their friends and supporters for private money.
Under public campaign financing, they don’t have to. The government pays for their campaigns.
I understand their motives. I just don’t get why I, a taxpayer in Seattle, should feel sympathetic to them. Because I don’t care how raising money makes them feel. It may be only five dollars and such-and-such cents a year, as they say. The cost of three cups of coffee. Fine. I’ll take the coffee. Giving that money to them for the purpose of reelecting them is like setting it on fire. I don’t do that.
Bruce, I’m not adamantly for public financing of campaigns, but I’m intrigued enough to support the Seattle City Council’s explorations.
The ability to fundraise, while an admirable talent, should not be a barrier to elective office. Publicly-financed campaigns could help attracted a broad, cross-section of people and expand political discourse. New York City has public financing and it is credited with getting more everyday people involved in politics. Money levels the playing field. It allows Joe Blow to have a shot against Joe Biden.
Several on the City Council support public campaign financing, Councilmembers Mike O’Brien,NIck Licata and Jean Godden. Licata’s “Urban Politics” blog offers a thorough historical view of Seattle’s experience with public campaign financing during the late 1970s, 80s and early 1990s. That ended in 1992 when state Initiative 134 passed, prohibiting public financing. The state Legislature offered a partial remedy in 2008, giving local jurisdictions the authority to create programs for public financing of campaigns.
I can disagree with your concerns as a taxpayer. When the government pays for political campaigns, the public pays. But think of it this way: the public also benefits from democratically-elected leaders and a corruption-free system. Public financing of political campaigns keeps those public benefits pure.
I don’t believe that money is always a corrupting influence. Large corporate expenditures do not automatically buy influence. But they do if the seller and buyer want it to. Money talks.