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Councilmember González Sends Proposed Legislation ‘To Protect the Integrity of Seattle’s Democracy’ to Seattle Ethics & Elections Commission

Councilmember M. Lorena González (Pos. 9 // Citywide), chair of the Gender Equity, Safe Communities, New Americans & Education Committee, sent to the Seattle Ethics & Elections Commission (“Commission”) proposed legislation that will create greater transparency in our electoral process by prohibiting foreign influence in City elections, placing a limit on contributions to political action committees, and adding new disclosure requirements.  The Commission will discuss the proposed legislation during its Tuesday, August 13, meeting at 4 p.m at the Seattle Municipal Tower in Room 4080. The Commission’s meeting is open to the public, and recorded and posted on Seattle Channel’s website

“Transparency and fairness in our electoral system is serious business,” said Councilmember M. Lorena González. “Voters deserve to know who is influencing our local elections through independent expenditures and public ads. My proposed legislation would send a clear message to those who seek to buy our democracy that our local democratic process is not for sale to the highest bidder. As reported by The Stranger, we’ve continued to see online political ads without knowing how much money was spent, or by whom, to target and influence voters.  I believe Seattlites deserve full transparency in their elections, and this legislation adds more teeth to our existing laws.”

González outlined her concerns and proposed legislation in a detailed August 7 letter to the Commission with a request that the Commission review and provide feedback on the legislation.

Ellen L. Weintraub, chair of the Federal Election Commission, also wrote a letter to the Commission, expressing her support of the proposed ordinance. 

From the letter:

“I applaud Seattle’s effort to build upon its leadership in campaign-finance reform with the foreign-influence provisions of this proposed ordinance. By adopting these carefully crafted corporate requirements, Seattle will set an example that can be followed by others at the local, state, and federal levels.”

González’s proposed legislation would:

  • amend the Seattle Municipal Code to include the definition of “foreign-influenced corporations” to close the gap of foreign influence in our local elections and make sure that our local elections are funded by constituents and not foreign parties
  • limit contributions for “independent expenditure committees” and set a $5,000 cap on contributions by a person to independent expenditure committees for use in elections in the City of Seattle in any electoral cycle
  • creates a new definition for a “qualified public communication,” which would require independent expenditure committees to provide disclosures and maintain records in a manner that is consistent with regulations applicable to “paid advertisements.”

The use of independent expenditures is growing at an exponential rate in Washington State and across the country. According to the Commission, independent expenditures more than doubled from the 2013 municipal election to the city election in 2017, skyrocketing from about $556,000 to about $1,277,000.

According to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, Russia, China, Iran and other foreign actors are engaged in ongoing campaigns to undermine our democracy.  

Furthermore, the United States Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court have recognized the need to protect U.S. elections (including local elections) from foreign influence through the ban on contributions and expenditures by foreign nationals and upheld by the Supreme Court in Bluman v. Federal Election Commission.  

In 2016, the United States government concluded that the 2016 presidential election was subject to extensive foreign involvement, as set forth in the U.S. Director of National Intelligence’s January 2017 report on “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections.”

González plans to introduce the legislation after the Commission has reviewed it and provided her with feedback.  It is her plan to then have the City Council consider this legislation in early 2020. If passed, the ordinance would take effect and be in force 30 days after its approval by the Mayor, as provided by Seattle Municipal Code Section 1.04.020.

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