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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

October 14, 2013 at 4:15 PM

Lack of transparency in Seattle Prop. 1 campaign

Proposition 1 would create accountability and transparency in Seattle City Council elections by funding candidates with property taxes, according to the campaign’s Fair Elections Seattle website.

But money from the biggest donor to Fair Elections Seattle itself is not transparent.

Washington Public Campaigns (WPC), a local nonprofit group, has contributed $10,000 to Fair Elections Seattle — almost one-quarter of the cash received by the campaign backing Prop. 1.

An average voter can’t tell, though, who contributes to WPC. The group is not registered as a political committee with the state and has not publicly detailed the donors behind its campaign spending.

Doesn’t that seem ironic? “Yeah, I can understand that,” said Alice Woldt, a longtime peace Seattle activist and executive director of WPC. “I guess I could’ve sent letters” to donors, Woldt said, asking donors if WPC could disclose their names. “I didn’t think of doing that.”

Donations tended to come from WPC board members such as Evelyn McChesney, according to Woldt. She also said there was a $5,000 donor whom she didn’t feel at liberty to disclose.  She said donors understood that WPC would support Prop. 1.

A group like WPC doesn’t necessarily have to register with state watchdogs. There are two tests, according to Lori Anderson of the state Public Disclosure Commission. “It really boils down to whether Washington Public Campaigns gave them money they already had as opposed to raised for that specific ballot measure,” Anderson said. “The second test is whether spending money to support a ballot measure is one of their primary purposes.”

WPC’s primary purpose is not supporting Prop. 1, Woldt said. The group has goals beyond Seattle, such as reversing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case that equated corporations with people under the U.S. Constitution.

Comments | More in 2014 elections, Politics Northwest | Topics: campaign finance, Election 2013, seattle city council

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