The city council moved public campaign financing one step closer to the ballot this afternoon when eight council members, meeting as the public campaign finance committee, voted for a ballot measure that would create a new property tax to provide public campaign financing for city council candidates.
Before they could start raking in city dollars (up to $210,000, provided on a six-to-one ratio based on what the candidate has raised on their own), a candidate would have to prove their viability by raising at least 600 individual contributions of at least $10 each, for a minimum of $6,000; have a declared opponent who has raised at least $6,000 from any number of contributors; agree to participate in at least three public debates during their campaign; and accept a total fundraising limit of $140,000 in the primary and $245,000 overall.
Council members gave candidates a little more time to raise early contributions. Initially, candidates would have had 14 days to qualify after the King County Filing deadline; under the current proposal, they'd have 21 days after the final filing deadline. The idea, council members said, was to give late-filing candidates a fighting chance to get their contributions in on time.
"I hate to kind of constrain candidates who may be in the deciding mode and coming up to a late point," council member Richard Conlin said. "We've already got a filing deadline that's quite a ways before the primary."Licata's amendment would have reduced the amount of money districted candidates could get from the city, and the total amount they could raise, by half, and would have cut the number of contributors they'd have to get to prove viability by two thirds.
Council member Nick Licata withdrew a proposal intended to deal with the problem of district elections, which will be on the ballot alongside public financing: namely, that the public financing bill only refers to "citywide" council seats. Under the district proposal, just two seats would be at-large.
Licata's amendment would have reduced the amount of money districted candidates could get from the city, and the total amount they could raise, by half, and would have cut the number of contributors they'd have to get to prove viability by two thirds. The thinking: Candidates who are only running in one geographic district won't need as much money, and won't have access to as many potential contributors.
(When his colleague Sally Bagshaw asked what his "rational basis" was for cutting the dollar amounts in half but slashing the contribution requirement by two-thirds, Licata shrugged. "It's very thin"—prompting Bagshaw to exclaim, "I love that about you, Nick!")
However, when council members pointed out that, nationwide, district council elections actually tend to cost more than at-large elections, and suggested that it was premature to be writing rules for an election system that may or may not be adopted, Licata withdrew his amendment. If both measures pass, the council will have two years to come up with a fix that allows districted council candidates to receive public dollars.
One other big issue the legislation fails to address is the 600-contributor requirement. In many past council races, challengers haven't gotten that many individual contributions during their entire campaign. Critics say the proposal as written protects incumbents by setting the bar unrealistically high.
The legislation does not limit how much a candidate can contribute to his or her own campaign.
The council plans to vote on the legislation, putting it on the November ballot, next Monday.