Seattle City Council Votes on Bill to Restore Publicly Financed Elections in Seattle

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City of Seattle

Council President Sally J. Clark
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw
Councilmember Tim Burgess
Councilmember Richard Conlin
Councilmember Jean Godden
Councilmember Bruce Harrell
Councilmember Nick Licata
Councilmember Mike O’Brien
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen

Seattle City Council Votes on Bill to Restore
Publicly Financed Elections in Seattle

Proposal to be sent to voters in November

SeattleCity Council voted on legislation today to restore public financing for local elections. Seattle was the first municipality in the country to introduce public financing, also called "voter-owned elections," in 1979, but has not had an operating program since 1992.  The proposal will now be sent to Seattle voters on the November ballot.

Public financing is a system in which qualifying campaigns are funded in part with public dollars in order to increase the number of candidates running for office and increase the role of small donors in the electoral process. The Council’s public financing proposal would only apply to City Council races and would be instituted in the 2015 elections.

"I’m looking forward to the robust debate about the role of money in politics in the months ahead," said Councilmember Mike O’Brien.

To opt into the program, candidates must first qualify by collecting contributions of $10 or more from at least 600 Seattle residents. Once qualified, donations up to $50 would be matched six-to-one on the first $35,000 raised. Candidates who fully utilize the matching system would receive $210,000 in public funds throughout the entire campaign, split between the primary and general elections. Voters would be asked to approve a 6-year, $9 million property tax levy to finance the program, which would cost an estimated $2 million per year, or about $5.76 for a home valued at $350,000. Candidates would have the option to run for office without participating in the public financing program.

In December 2012, Councilmembers Sally J. Clark, Nick Licata, Mike O’Brien and Tom Rasmussen sent a letter to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) asking the body to recommend a public financing model that meets three goals: (1) increases electoral competitiveness, (2) reduces financial barriers to entry for candidates and (3) increases the role and emphasis of small donors in the electoral process. In March, the SEEC delivered its recommendations to Council for consideration, over which the City Council’s Public Campaign Finance Committee has been deliberating since April.

Seattle had partial public financing of campaigns in 1979 and 1981, and from 1987-1991. In 1992, state Initiative 134 passed, prohibiting public financing. In 2008 the State legislature adopted legislation allowing local jurisdictions to establish programs to publicly finance campaigns, if approved by a public vote, and the funding is derived from local sources only.

[View in Council Newsroom]