Tonight: Join the conversation about campaign finance reform



At Council we’re talking about how to improve our elections and how campaigns are financed.

Everyone can agree that we want interested people to be involved and yes,  run for office if that’s their calling.

But we go about this reform is a complicated puzzle with many pieces.

Financing local elections is just one of those pieces.

In November 2011, I voted for Resolution 31337, which passed, and which outlined several issues to study, including how local elections could be financed.

Two events about this are coming up, one happening tonight:

TONIGHT: Part 1: Public Election Financing In Practice
Thursday, Jan. 31, 6 – 8 p.m.
Seattle University,
901 12th Avenue
LeRoux Conference Center

Part 2: Public Election Financing in Research
Wednesday, Feb. 13, 6 – 8 p.m.
Seattel Central Library,
1000 Fourth Ave.

The average amount of a campaing contribution reached an all-time high in Seattle’s 2011 elections (PDF),  while the number of small contributions fell to an all-time low.

Unspent campaign funds also reached a new high. The average amount of money raised by the winning candidate has increased by 60 percent since 1995 and City incumbent re-election rate is at 84 percent since 1995.

Digging into this issue  last December, Councilmembers Clark, Licata, O’Brien and Rasmussen sent a letter to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, asking them to recommend a public financing model that does the following:

  • Increases electoral competitiveness,
  • Reduces financial barriers to entry for candidates, and
  • Increases the role and importance of small donors in the electoral process.

You can find more detailed information about public campaign financing here, but briefly, it’s a system where campaigns are partly funded with public dollars.

This is not new to Seattle. In fact, our city used to publicly finance campaigns but due to cost savings measures and a collapsing economy, we eliminated the system.

Read about Seattle’s history with public financing of campaigns.

We are contemplating finance reform one again. We don’t know what that looks like yet, but we’re looking at a system where candidates can choose whether or not to participate in the system.

If they do, they are required to raise funds from early supporters, which are then matched with public funds. Other cities that use the system now include New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami.

The idea is to give candidates the incentive and the option to broaden their campaigns to reach all voters in the city, rather than small groups of high-dollar contributors.

Depending on the report from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, which we expect to see in March, Council could place this question before voters on either the primary or General Election ballot in 2013.

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