Big Money Politics
Wednesday, November 13, 2019
Choosing between two good candidates or deciding whether or not to support an initiative can be challenging—especially with the avalanche of campaign materials sent to voters as the campaigns come to a close. But who is paying for those campaign materials? That is a question voters should ask before marking their ballots.
Corporate contributions flooded into the campaigns for Whatcom County Executive and Seattle City Council seats. Many voters made their decisions during the last week of the campaigns, so last-minute ads and attack ads in particular can have a big influence.
The League of Women Voters believes that elections should be about voters, not about big-money interests. That’s why we are working to protect our democratic process by advocating for campaign contributions to be transparent to the voters. Our elections should be free from corruption and undue influence, and everyday Americans should be able to run for office, even if they aren’t well-financed or connected to wealthy special interests.
In the 2020 Washington legislative session the League will advocate strongly for legislators to establish a one-year “cooling-off” period before high-level government officials can work as lobbyists influencing state public policy. We’ll also be looking at ways to prohibit campaign contributions from corporations where the majority of stock is held by foreign interests. We are ready to act wherever possible to limit the corrupting influence on money in our state and local races.
We all know candidates need money to get their message out; however the League works to ensure transparency and full disclosure as well as strong enforcement of the existing regulations to rein in spending. We supported Initiative 276 in 1972 that created the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) to provide timely and meaningful public access to accurate information about the financing of political campaigns. The PDC has an enormous task in tracking and regulating campaign donations and expenditures as well as lobbyists’ activities. Since its inception it has been underfunded and understaffed, and has not had the authority it needed to be effective as possible.
Legislation passed in the last two sessions of the State Legislature, which the League supported, went a long way in overhauling outdated laws and providing sufficient capacity and authority to the PDC. In the 2020 Legislative session additional legislation is proposed to address: reporting requirements for elected officials, political advertising, and how expenditures for ballot propositions must be reported. Another proposal, if passed, will allow the PDC to spend funds as they become available from court penalties, so the agency can move forward immediately on projects in the queue such as updated campaign reporting software, developing online apps, creating a searchable archive for commercial advertiser information and many others.
Find out more about “Money in our Campaigns” on Nov. 16 at a program sponsored by the LWV of Bellingham/Whatcom County.
Judge Anne Levinson (Ret.), immediate past Chair for the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) will explain how voters can get information from the PDC website and will discuss recent changes in the PDC’s ability to enforce campaign finance regulations. Judge Levinson served three terms as Chair, during which time she spearheaded a series of reforms to strengthen campaign finance laws and to increase the authority and funding for the PDC. During her tenure, the PDC created an online case tracking system, new apps for filers, open access for data, alternatives to more quickly resolve complaints to dramatically decrease the case backlog, and worked with the Attorney General on enforcement actions.
Eric Newman, Chief Litigation Counsel for the Antitrust Division of the Washington State Office of the Attorney General, will explain how his office is working to enforce campaign regulations and their office’s initiative to combat Dark Money in our campaigns.
Elise Orlick will share her experiences working on campaigns to get big money out of politics and elevate the voices of small donors in state and federal government. She most recently worked as the State Director of WashPIRG, the grassroots consumer advocacy organization. Before that, she was a Democracy Associate with U.S. Public Interest Research Group working in Washington, D.C., where she led a federal campaign to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
Additional questions will be addressed at the program, including whether other changes are needed to give our system more teeth or be more transparent, and what can be done about obtaining information on campaign advertising from platforms such as Facebook and Google.
Join us from 10am to 12pm on Sat., Nov. 16, at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, 1207 Ellsworth St. Doors open at 9:30am for social gathering, with the presentation and discussion starting at 10am.
Allison Aurand and Heather Brown are co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of Bellingham/Whatcom County.