Councilmembers to consider Publicly Financed Campaigns for Seattle

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City of Seattle

Councilmember Tim Burgess
Council President Sally J. Clark
Councilmember Nick Licata
Councilmember Mike O’Brien
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen

Councilmembers to consider Publicly Financed Campaigns for Seattle
Possible ballot measure coming to voters in November

Seattle Seattle City Councilmembers announced today a timeline to consider a proposal to publicly finance elections for local campaigns in the city of Seattle. The plan outlines a series of five meetings in April, May and June, leading to a decision about whether to ask voters to approve such a program in November 2013.

At the request of four councilmembers, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission recently submitted a recommendation for the Council to consider a public campaign finance program. The Council will review the details of the Commission’s proposed program structure starting Monday, April 29.

"It’s the right time to explore new ways to engage Seattle in the electoral process," said Councilmember Tim Burgess, chair of the Special Committee on Public Campaign Finance. "Seattle has long been at the forefront in upholding fair elections, but we should learn from other cities about what can be achieved through a public campaign finance system."

Public campaign financing, sometimes called "voter-owned" elections, allows a candidate to qualify for public funds to run an electoral campaign if he or she is able to demonstrate a broad base of community support. Candidate participation would be optional, and participants would agree to set standards that could include limits on private fundraising, a limit on using personal funds or limits on third-party funding assistance. Similar programs currently operate in many cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.

"I’m looking forward to creating a program that helps a diverse cross-section of Seattle residents to run for local office," said Council President Sally J. Clark.  "Plenty of smart, qualified people would love to run, but the price tag has run so high in recent cycles that otherwise great leaders sit out. Money shouldn’t determine who runs and serves."

"Voter-owned elections get more people involved and keep campaigns focused on people, issues and ideas, something I think that strengthens our democracy and that we all value," said Councilmember Mike O’Brien. "Seattle was the first municipality to put a system in place in 1979, and I think it is time to ask the voters to reinstate it."

"The influence of money on elections has grown nationally and locally; with publicly financed campaigns, we can at least minimize its influence on local elections, said Councilmember Nick Licata. "The voters should have an opportunity to decide if Seattle joins other cities with public financing."

In 1992, Washington voters adopted Initiative 134, which eliminated Seattle’s former voter-owned electionssystem. The Washington State Legislature passed a law in 2008 reestablishing the power for municipalities to create public financing programs, subject to voter approval.

[View in Council Newsroom]