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Corporate personhood resolution and Seattle elections

Today the City Council voted 8-0 to adopt Resolution 31380, joining more than 100 municipalities and at least two states (Hawaii and Vermont) asking Congress to overturn the Citizens United ruling. Specifically, the City of Seattle calls on the United States Congress to take steps to amend the United States Constitution to make clear:

  1. Corporations are not human beings, and only human beings are endowed with Constitutional rights.
  2. Contributions and expenditures for political purposes are not Constitutionally-protected speech, and that, therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.
  3. Congress and the States shall have the power to regulate contributions and expenditures for campaigns and ballot measures, and to require public disclosure of the sources of such contributions and expenditures.

This resolution is a positive declaration of Seattle’s values. It is clear to me that we need to take significant steps to stem the influence that unlimited corporate contributions are having on our national democracy. It is also clear to me that we can take steps to safeguard Seattle from the growing role that money is playing in our local elections.

I have been digging into this issue this spring to determine if there are things we can do at the local level to address the issues of money in politics.  I recently sent a letter with Councilmembers Burgess and Clark to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, asking them to weigh in on two proposals.

The first provision would limit the time period that candidates seeking local office can solicit or accept campaign contributions. The new fundraising window would run from January 1 of the election year to April 30 of the following year (candidates currently have several months after an election to retire debt and close up their books). The intent is to limit the actual or perceived influence of campaign contributions on elected officials, so that we reduce the amount of time that elected officials can solicit donations and make policy at the same time. This proposal would be a safeguard against corruption and ensure that while elected officials are focused on representing you, not working for re-election.

The second provision would cap the maximum amount of surplus campaign contributions that can be rolled over to a future campaign at $5,000. I initially asked this question about limiting surplus roll-overs from one campaign to the next in an April blog post and, after looking into the historical campaign numbers and the growing trend, I think now is time to act. Limiting roll-overs ensures that candidates honor the original intent of a person’s donation–this candidate, this office, this year.

Our staff have crunched data on some of the recent trends here in the City. Here is some of the data that supports our cases for local action.

Graph of total fundraising before 1/1 of election year

 

Graph of Total rollover funds available for all candidates

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission will discuss and hopefully weigh in on these two issues at their next meeting, June 6, 2012.

What do you think? Should we limit the time a sitting elected official can raise money for re-election? Should we limit the amount of money a candidate can roll over from one campaign to the next? What else should we do here in Seattle to ensure that we have a system where running for elected office is about a candidate’s values, ideas and ability to lead and not about how much money someone has access to? I look forward to the conversation.

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