Tag: campaign finance

February 8, 2015 - Houston, TX, USA.  Monopoly money

Public campaign financing could be headed for the ballot in Washington state

 

By now, Washington state voters are familiar with the Seattle Process:

  1. A policy proposal is sketched out on the whiteboard at Democratic HQ.
  2. A beta test commences on the hustings — the Seattle electorate is a test group for determining how to get the public to approve the experimental idea.
  3. Having used Seattle as a proving ground, the idea is pushed in Olympia, then a statewide initiative (if legislative efforts are not successful), and even exported to other states.

Now, another Seattle-hatched idea — socialized financing of political campaigns — is being uploaded into the statewide mainframe.  The current piece of political malware is Initiative 1464, a sleeper measure headed for the November 2016 ballot that may pose a real threat to balanced elections and informed policy in Washington state.

Also known as the Washington Government Accountability Act, I-1464 is a near-clone of the Honest Elections Act passed in Seattle last year and is being promoted as a necessary measure to curb the influence of mysterious ‘dark money’ in state politics.

“It’s going to transform how we do elections in Washington state in a way that brings more focus back on the little guy.” That’s what political consultant and I-1464 co-sponsor Alex Hays told KING 5 political reporter Natalie Brand in a recent interview.

In reality, I-1464 appears to be little more than a new way for Democrats to game political campaign financing rules to their favor, neutralize the input of the business community and activist groups in the formation of public policy, and possibly even lay the tracks for taxpayer subsidization of non-citizen non-voter political contributions.

What would I-1464 do?

The surface appeal of I-1464 is obvious.  In the words of its sponsors is that it would “restore public trust and confidence by requiring greater transparency and increasing political accountability, limiting the influence of lobbyists, strengthening enforcement of campaign-finance and ethics laws, and empowering small donors to ensure everyone in Washington has a voice.”

The real implications of I-1464 are something quite different than those progressive platitudes.  On closer inspection, the measure seems to be little more than a Trojan horse designed to capture the interest of disaffected voters across the political spectrum to enact rules that would provide an almost permanent advantage to interests with a stake in procuring Democratic control over state politics.

No lobbying for you

Many of I-1464’s provisions lay a minefield of “gotcha” rules between informed lobbyists and public officials.  The proponents don’t shy away from disclosing their intent; they want to make it harder for to lobbyists to operate.  In reality, some of the teeth in I-1464 would come as close to criminalizing lobbying — a constitutionally protected right — as any law has tried to do in recent memory.

Although the lobbying profession is a favorite scapegoat and rare stories of abuse are highly public, the positive role that the lobbying community plays in providing informed testimony and insight on proposed legislation is woefully underreported.  Sometimes when an association representing small grocers sits down with the governor, it’s part of an effort to save jobs and keep consumer prices low.  In fact, it’s not popular to say it, but much of the time that’s the outcome, if not the objective, of lobbying efforts.

The bad news in I-1464’s anti-lobbyist provisions is compounded because of evidence that the measure also appears to carve out exemptions for unions.  It’s hard to see how the public will be more confident in government when the laws and regulations are developed from only the half of the facts that prejudice to he union’s benefit.

Maybe some reform of how lobbying is done would be helpful, but I-1464 is too extreme and would have the unintended consequence of making our public officials less informed.

Spreading the political wealth around

The feature of I-1464 that is likely to get the most attention though is its provision to set up a system for public financing of some political campaigns.

Under the proposal, qualified register voters would be eligible to receive $150 per election cycle in “democracy credits” to be spent on qualified election campaigns.  It would require mandatory mailings from the state to registered voters to notify them of available credits.  The entire process would be administered by the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.

Although the proposal for using one person’s money to pay for another person’s political speech would initially be restricted to legislative races in even-numbered years, I-1464 explicitly makes provisions to expand the program as early as 2021.  The Legislature would have the ability to amend the initiative even sooner than that, as we know from experience.

But most alarming is a portion of the law that appears to require the PDC to develop a program for distributing democracy credits to permanent resident aliens living in Washington state as early as 2019.  Read carefully from the text of the Act:

By December 1, 2019, the commission shall develop and adopt regulations to allow any adult natural person who is a bona fide resident of the state, not eligible to register to vote under state law, but eligible under state and federal law to donate to a candidate campaign, to request to be verified by the commission as an eligible individual for participation in the program in the year 2020 and thereafter.

That section appears to be crafted to require the state government to give foreign nationals with permanent residency status (read that as possessing a green card) publicly funded vouchers to make contributions to political campaigns.

Who’s backing I-1464?

Integrity Washington is the campaign committee formed to get I-1464 on the Washington ballot.  Who is Integrity Washington?  As with most things, that’s a matter of who’s paying the bills.

As of the end of March, Integrity Washington has received $337,402 in cash contributions, according to filings made to the PDC.  More than two-thirds of the campaign cash — $225,000 — has come from Every Voice, a next-generation progressive political org born out of a 2014 merger that absorbed a super PAC funded by Jonathan Soros.  (Yes, that Soros family.)  The next largest contributor to I-1464 so far is Represent Us, at $100,300.

Modeled on ballot-proven Seattle-grade socialism

Every Voice and Represent Us also played big in the passage of Seattle Initiative Measure I-122, the Honest Elections Act passed by voters of Washington’s most populous city in 2015.  Represent Us lists I-122 as one of the group’s “wins” on their website.

What did the measure do?  In part it required some property owners in Seattle to pay higher taxes to finance “democracy vouchers” for public financing of political campaign contributions.

It will surprise no one that the same city that elected a self-described socialist to its city council also passed I-122 by a 27-point margin.

A total of more than $1.4 million was spent by the proponents of I-122, $390,860.23 of which came from Every Voice.

(Some might suspect that the overkill funding of I-122, a slam dunk measure, was really an early investment in the statewide effort to be named later, now known as I-1464.)

Although the evolution from I-122 to I-1464 has shuffled the cast of characters — I-1464 co-sponsor Alex Hays is a political consultant with a large number of Republican legislators on his past and current client list — Every Voice and its funders are calling the tune.ScreenCap ntegritywashington_org_who-we-ar

(As of this posting, Hays’ picture and bio are still featured on the Integrity Washington website.  Click image to right to view a screen capture.)

In order for Washington voters to weigh in on the proposal, Integrity Washington will need to collect enough signatures to put it on the ballot — just a few thousand less than 250,000.  In mid-February, only weeks before a half dozen Bernie Sanders rallies occurred in Washington, a $100,000 deposit was paid to a California-based signature gathering firm.  Petitions have already been sighted in Seattle.

SunBreakingThrough

State Campaign Finance Investigators Recommend Dismissal of Complaint Against Conservative Group

The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission investigation staff today recommended dismissal of a complaint lodged by the State Democratic Party against Americans for Prosperity Washington relating to mailings the organization sent out in 2010. Although the PDC has yet to officially act upon its recommendation, but that action to put an end to the year-long inquiry could happen soon, perhaps after the commission hears the results of the investigation at their Dec. 8th meeting.

The decision comes as welcome news to current AFPW Chairperson Nansen Malin.

“AFP has always maintained that this was a frivolous complaint,” Malin told NW Daily Marker by email this afternoon. “I am pleased with the recommendation.”

The reaction from State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz was considerably less exuberant:

“It is a travesty that the PDC staff took over a year to assess whether the unethical, behind-closed doors actions of the Koch Brother’s backed AFP-WA violated state law. AFP-WA was given a free-pass to influence the 2010 election cycle without a word from the state agency that is supposed to serve as our campaign finance watch-dog.

“Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers, and countless other right-wing organizations are planning to pour hundreds of millions in shady money into the 2012 election cycle. The PDC staff has just issued a road map as to how they can funnel their dirty politics into Washington State.”

The recommendation to dismiss turned on two key questions. First, did the activities of AFPW conform to the state’s legal definition of a political committee; second, were the mailers sent by AFPW in 2010 political independent expenditures or electioneering and therefore subject to limitations and disclosure requirements. The PDC’s report clearly answers each question: No and no.

The PDC determined that although AFPW did target Democratic candidates with their mailings, the content of the pieces did not solicit recipients to vote one way or another, but instead offered a general negative criticism of how each candidate had voted in the past, there was no call to action that could be called political advertising. The report finds that AFPW engaged in “issue advocacy,” and as such cannot be subject to government regulation.

You can read the entire PDC report here.

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[photo credit: dan taylor]

CashRefund

Inslee Refunds $32,000 in Overlimit Campaign Donations

Congressman and candidate for Washington State governor Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) has refunded more than $32,000 in contributions from his gubernatorial campaign account, according to the Associated Press.

Two weeks ago, NW Daily Marker was the first to report that several donors to Inslee’s campaign had given more than the maximum amount allowed during an election cycle. The overlimit donations were caused when Inslee rolled over funds from his congressional campaign fund. The most recent interpretation of campaign finance laws by the State Public Disclosure Commission determined that Inslee had to count previous donations against limits in the current 2012 cycle.

The refunds amount to a very small percentage of Inslee’s campaign account and he is still left with nearly $1.3 million cash on hand compared to Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna’s roughly $900,000.

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[photo credit: stevendepolo]

JayInslee

Inslee Discloses Details of Disputed $200K Transfer from Fed Account, Several Donors Over the Max

On Friday, congressman and Democratic candidate for governor Jay Inslee disclosed the details of a near-$200,000 rollover from his federal campaign fund, a transaction completed at the end of June. The Republican candidate in the race, Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, called the transfer into question on several grounds, precipitating a partial reversal of the Public Disclosure Commission’s earlier signal of thumbs-up to Inslee. In late July, the Public Disclosure Commission determined that the transfer was permissible, but that individual donors would need to be identified and their contributions would have to be counted against limits in this election cycle. The PDC also implied that donors should consent to having their contributions rolled over.

Finally, a month after the PDC required the Inslee campaign to submit the itemized account of names and amounts, the list was dumped on the election finance watchdog the day before a lazy Labor Day holiday weekend. But based on NW Daily Marker’s analysis, though Inslee has edged closer to fixing errors in the reporting his campaign finances, it now appears that he has taken several thousand dollars in campaign contributions above legal limits.

A list of ten individual contributors in the PDC database are shown to have contributed more than the $1,600 allowed for each election (primary and general) to Inslee’s gubernatorial campaign fund. Three donors have exceeded the limit for both elections. The total amount of contributions over the maximum is $12,500, perhaps small compared to the total amount in Inslee’s campaign coffers but where dollars are concerned, zero-error tolerance is a universal standard.

Inslee spokesperson Jaime Smith implied to The Seattle Times on Friday that they were aware infractions may have occurred, but were not sure what the exact numbers were:

Spokeswoman Jaime Smith said some donors had rolled over their federal money and given on top of that. She said the campaign would be disclosing some refunds next week, but she didn’t have a final number available.

Inslee’s amended C3 cash receipt report also changed the amount of small donations (those under $25) received on a single day – June 27th – from $388 to $2,523.

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[photo credit: flickr]

DollarRoll

McKenna Raises $150K More Than Inslee in June

The books are closed on June 2011 in the Washington State Governor’s race and according to filings with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, Republican candidate Rob McKenna raised slightly more than $154,000 in the first official month of the campaign than Democrat Jay Inslee.

The total amount raised by McKenna last month was $667,290 compared to Inslee’s $513,000, though McKenna spent $189,767 to bring the two campaigns nearly even in their cash-on-hand at the end of the period. The cash box at Inslee for Washington, however, has $53,000 in I.O.U.’s; McKenna’s campaign is currently debt-free.

According to a press release issued Monday night from the McKenna campaign, $25,591 of their June donations came from donors volunteering to re-allocate monies already given to his attorney general’s re-election campaign fund. McKenna feels that the size of the haul and where the donations are coming from are signs his campaign is generating broad enthusiasm among Washington voters.

“Not only did previous supporters step up to give our campaign a real boost, but the large number of new donors show that citizens want a New Direction for Washington State,” McKenna  said in yesterday’s release.

Inslee started passing the hat more than week before his official June 24th announcement, taking early donations a few days after Gov. Chris Gregoire formally declined to run for a third term.

Who were the donors queued up to make the earliest donations christening each campaign?

Roberta Riley, general counsel of Planned Parenthood of Western Washington is a charter member in Inslee for Washington, giving a combined $3,200 in personal and group contributions. Dunn PAC gave $1,000 to Team McKenna on his first day of receiving.

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