The Seattle City Council passed a ban on most political spending by “foreign-influenced” corporations and increased election transparency today, voting in unanimous support of President M. Lorena González’s Clean Campaigns Act during its Full Council meeting. Seattle will become the largest and only the second city in the country to pass such legislation.
Following a robust discussion of the Clean Campaigns legislation, C.B. 119731 (‘Regulation of Foreign-Influenced Corporations’) and C.B. 119732 (‘Commercial Advertising’) passed with a couple technical amendments.
“This is a big shift. We have an epidemic of big money in our elections, and this step helps to address the appearance and risk of corruption in our local elections,” González said. “Essentially, this legislation closes a loophole that previously allowed foreign persons to use their ownership in a corporation to influence political activity. Seattle is the largest and only the second city in the country to close such a loophole.”
The legislation prohibits foreign-influenced corporations from contributing money to Seattle candidates and from spending independently on candidate elections, though such companies could still spend on ballot-measure campaigns.
The Council’s Central Staff, using campaign finance data, identified out of the 20 largest corporate contributors to PACs in 2019, at least seven could have met the definition of “foreign-influenced” corporation.
The legislation also increases transparency in Seattle elections with new reporting requirements for commercial advertisers for advertising that appeals for votes or financial support of a political campaign.
“This legislation affords voters a better understanding of what political spending activity is happening, and serves to better bolster transparency in this space. It’s really important that if that activity will continue to occur – and it will – that at a minimum we ensure a level of transparency that the person receiving the message and being targeting by political spending will understand who is targeting them — and why –in a way that will retain transparency in the electoral process.”
González began working on what she has called “anti-corruption bills” in late 2018. In August 2019, she brought it before the city’s Ethics and Elections Commission for feedback. The Commission later expressed strong support for González’s legislation.
González’s Clean Campaigns legislation includes a third bill, Council Bill 119730, which would limit all contributions to political action committees (PACs) that businesses, labor unions and other interests used to bundle and spend a record $4 million in last year’s elections.
Through the Council’s legislative process, González’s will continue to explore a contribution cap to political action committees. Mirroring the increase in independent expenditures during City Council races over the last decade, there has also been an increase in the use of independent expenditures in Mayoral races; the $1.5 million contribution from Amazon to CASE accounts for 24% of the dollars contributed to PACs in 2019; and, only 5% of the contributors to PACs made contributions over $5,000, however those contributions accounted for almost 85% of contributions to PACs in 2019.
González postponed a committee vote on her third piece of legislation last Tuesday, leaving it to receive additional tooling over the next three months.