Events Calendar

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Clean Elections in Washington State

(Photo and Button courtesy of Dina Lydia Johnson)

On Thursday night (January 4th) Democracy for Snohomish County (DFSC)was a co-sponsor of a Town Hall Forum on Clean Elections held in the PUD Auditorium in Everett. The forum featured speakers from Washington Public Campaigns (WPC) as well as elected representatives from Maine, Arizona, and Washington. Clean Elections (public financing of political campaigns) has already been in place in Arizona and Maine for the last six years and the speakers from those states – State Representative Linda Valentino (D-ME 134) and State Senator Ed Ableser (D-AZ 17) - were both elected under those laws. State Representative Joe McDermott (D-WA 34) was the prime sponsor last year of a bill that would have reversed the current ban on publicly financing local/regional campaigns in Washington State. The bill fell short of passage primarily due to time limitations of the “short session.” He is re-introducing that legislation again this session.

The evening began with a presentation by John King from WPC. King is the Chair of the Policy Committee for WPC and, as such, is responsible for helping to develop legislation and find legislators who will be willing to sponsor that legislation (with or without some modification) through the legislative session. This year WPC is proposing three pieces of legislation. The first will be, as mentioned, a repeat of the effort to repeal the current ban on local financing. This bill would only allow for cities and counties, as well as various regional elective boards (schools and fire districts for example) to voluntarily establish public financing plans for those elections. The hopes for passage are high based upon the voluntary nature and the fact that the details would be left to the local and regional authorities. The second piece of legislation is a plan to publicly finance judicial campaigns at the State level - Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. The proposed legislation is based on the successful model set in North Carolina where such a policy has been in place for the past couple of election cycles. The hopes for passage here are also high based on a request from Governor Gregoire that some form of this legislation be passed this year and the public outcry over the overt efforts of some to influence the outcome of certain Supreme Court races by pouring extreme amounts of money into the process. State Representative Shay Schual-Berke (D-WA 33) will be the prime sponsor for this legislation in the Washington House.

The third proposal is for a comprehensive bill that would allow for public financing of all statewide races from Governor to Secretary of State to the same judicial races noted above as well as all legislative races. The effect of this legislation would be to make Washington the 4th state in the country (after Arizona, Maine, and Connecticut) to have full public financing of political campaigns. It should be noted that in all of these cases, the access to such public funds would be completely voluntary and that there are no provisions to curtail the ability of any individual or group to spend any funds except as currently exist under state law. In other words, the only people who are subject to any limitations are the candidates themselves. But then, after all, aren’t those the folks we should be most concerned about? The hopes for passage of this legislation, at least in this session, are not very high even though there are already prime sponsors lined up in both the Washington House - Rep. Mark Miloscia (D- WA 30) and Senate – Sen. Jim Kastama (D WA 25).

Representative Valentino and Senator Ableser spoke quite eloquently about the impact of Clean Elections on them personally as well as on their respective states. One of the most encouraging themes was the fact that participation in the system has been growing each year and is embraced by the major political parties in both states. Valentino spoke with great pride in the fact that, of the 151 seats in the Maine House of Representatives, 149 were contested in the last election and Ableser was quick to point out how the make-up of the candidates in Arizona has shifted from the independently wealthy to citizens from every stripe; true testimonials to the intent of Clean Elections in returning the democratic process back to the people. A surprising (at least to me) fact to come from both of their presentations was the financial impact on the voters of their states with regard to publicly financing political campaigns. In each case the cost per voter was determined to be less than $3.50 per year**. Reassuringly, this is approximately the same estimate on the part of John King and WPC for their comprehensive proposal.


The cost should be stated as "PER CITIZEN" and not "PER VOTER". Thanks to "The Seagull" for pointing this out in the comments.

Imagine that, for less than one grande mocha per year, the citizens of Washington State could ensure that their elected representatives could stop having to listen to lobbyists on either side of the political spectrum, could stop spending their campaign time seeking out large dollar contributors, and start spending the their valuable time speaking directly to their constituents and voting on legislation simply because it is the right thing to do and not worry that it could have a negative effect on the funding for their next campaign.

What can you do to make this happen? For starters you can and should phone, email, and snail mail your legislators in Olympia and let them know that you are concerned about the negative impact of money on our political process. As early as next week, you should let them know that you are hoping that they will vote for any Clean Elections legislation that comes before them. Then, as soon as we have the actual bill numbers, contact them again with the specific bill number and ask them to sign on as a co-sponsor to ensure that leadership will bring these proposed bills to the floor of each body for a vote. To be informed of any action that is taking place on this legislation, you should be signed up to receive email alerts from WPC by going to their website at In addition to reaching out to your specific legislator, if you have the time, you should consider traveling to Olympia to attend the public meetings of the various committees where these bills will be debated. The dates and times for these meeting will be announced by the WPC as soon as they have the information. Where possible, “legislative day caravans” will be organized to allow for the largest turnouts possible.

Finally, and probably most importantly, talk to your neighbors or, if you do not feel comfortable doing this on your own, contact groups such as WPC or Democracy for Snohomish County to find out when and where there will be other public forums on this issue and encourage your friends and neighbors to attend. We Washingtonians pride ourselves on our “populist bent” yet our most precious right – the right to determine our system of governance - is being allowed to drift into the wallets of those who are willing to pay to achieve their specific goals. It is time to step up and sacrifice that yearly latte to ensure that we, the people, own our government and our democracy.

Chad Shue,
Vice-Chair – Director of Communications
Democracy for Snohomish County


The Seagull said...

Are we certain that the $3.50 figure is "per voter" or per each and every citizen. This could make quite a difference and we should be sure before we use this figure for public presentations.
Thanks, The Seagull

Chad Shue said...

Thanks for the question. The $3.50 figure is actually per citizen. The cost per voter comes out to between $6 and $8.

I would suggest a couple of things though. First, do we ever really have a way to separate the revenue stream between citizens and voters? I mean, doesn't every citizen fund the current cost of elections - from the voters pamphlets to the ballots to the elections staff?

Secondly, doesn't every citizen shoulder the burden of corrupt elections?

You are correct though that we should use the correct language when presenting the information to the public.