Seattle city council member Sally Clark. Image via Sally Clark on Flickr.

 The big news at city hall this Monday, of course, was that the city council gave its final approval to San Francisco hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen's half-billion-dollar arena deal.  

But council members also adopted another game-changing piece of legislation: Council member Mike O'Brien's proposal that will limit the amount of time when city candidates can raise money (imposing a fundraising moratorium until the January of the year preceding an election) and bar candidates from keeping money in their campaign funds after an election. (Henceforth, candidates will have to return all contributions that remain in their campaign funds after an election or donate them to charity—or, more likely, spend all their money before Election Day). 

During deliberation on the proposal, one council skeptic, Sally Clark, said she worried that the legislation would end up hurting grassroots female and minority candidates, who already tend to face financial barriers to entry into races that can cost upward of $300,000. Shortening the window of time when candidates can raise money, while simultaneously allowing wealthy candidates to spend unlimited amounts on their own campaigns (the city cannot prohibit a wealthy candidate from funding his own campaign, a la Joe Mallahan in the 2009 mayoral election), could actually stifle participation, Clark said. 

So, our one question for Clark is: Why do you think women, in particular, could be harmed by O'Brien's campaign-finance limitations? 

Here's what Clark had to say: 

The scholarship is not huge about how campaign finance restrictions affects women and minority candidates, but in general, what I’ve been able to dig up and in talking with people, is that there’s a fear that if you’re a less well-off candidate, whether you’re an incumbent or a challenger, the amount of time you have advantages candidates who can write their own check or who have access to a network of people who can write their own checks.

In general, when we say who in our society tends to have less money and a less viable professional network, that still tends to be women, that still tends to be candidates of color.

Another concern is that it encourages [unlimited] independent expenditures to become part of the system as well, because you’ve shortened the amount of time to fundraise. I’m not somebody who can write my own checks. I need time to go out and raise money. If I have a more limited time in which to raise money, I’m going to go out and seek larger checks, because I'll have less time to build a viable budget with smaller contributions. 

That’s where the amendment that Richard [Conlin] proposed was interesting—let’s have a two-tiered system, saying why not let people raise small contributions and then open up the window to larger contributions a year or so before the election. If we really want people to be able to focus on smaller contributions, you frankly need more time for people to do that.

Another critique I’d make is that right now there are barriers that campaign finance reform doesn’t get at in terms of the actual financing of the campaigns and the fact that some people can't afford to take time off from their jobs [to campaign full-time].



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