Seattle PI: The Seattle City Council on Monday passed, and put on the November ballot, a public financing plan that asks voters to increase their property taxes in order to underwrite and pay for City Council campaigns.
The plan is supposed to increase the number of people running for the Council. In order to qualify for public funding, a candidate would need to raise $10 or more from at least 600 Seattle voters. Donations of up to $50 would be matched — on a six-to-one basis — up to the first $35,000 raised.
Hence, a candidate who raises $35,000 would get $210,000 in matching funds. The total cost of a campaign, with donations and taxpayer dollars, would be capped at $245,000. The plan would be financed by (yet another) property tax levy on Seattle homeowners, this one a $9 million, six-year levy.
“Our local democracy is strengthened when candidates can focus on the important issues facing our city, instead of who can raise the most money,” said Seattle City Councilman Mike O’Brien, a champion of the plan.
The Council’s two most outspoken left-activists, O’Brien and Nick Licata, spoke Monday at a campaign kickoff sponsored by a group called Fair Elections Seattle. A release by the group argues that taxpayer financing of campaigns “increases the diversity” of candidates who chose to fund.
Taxpayer financing is controversial, despite the record of Seattle voters of embracing just about any tax increase proposed by city fathers (and mothers).
Ex-Council candidate Jordan Royer, in a Crosscut opinion piece, argued that public financing is “at best painfully cynical: at worst, absurd.”
“Why would City Council members want to encourage people to take away their jobs?” asked Royer. “Publicly financed campaigns would benefit incumbent City Councilmembers far more than a start-up candidate. Which would more likely have easy access to 600 contributors?”
Seattle City Councilman Richard Conlin is also seeking a fifth term. Challenger Brian Carver has put up impressive fundraising numbers.
Licata, a strong supporter of taxpayer financing, is seeking his fifth term on the Council in this fall’s election. So is Councilman Richard Conlin.
A City Council press release on Monday sought to argue that the Council seeks to “restore public financing.” The Council did once vote for it, but a 1992 statewide initiative prohibited using taxpayer dollars to finance campaigns.
The Legislature opened the door again in 2008, specifying use of property tax dollars and requiring a public vote.
If voters approve, taxpayer financed Council elections would begin in 2015. Candidates for Seattle Mayor would still need to raise their own campaign war chests.
Voters will, this fall, get a chance to enact a far-reaching reform in Seattle politics. A measure, already qualified for the ballot, would replace at-large elections and elect 7 of 9 Council members by district. Each Council candidate would have to court a constituency of fewer than 90,000 citizens, rather than an entire city. Two Council members would still be elected at-large.