Mike O'Brien Proposes New Campaign Finance Limits

By Erica C. Barnett April 25, 2012

City council member Mike O'Brien proposing legislation to tighten rules governing how much money a candidate for one office can transfer to his or her campaign for a different office.

Earlier this month, as we reported, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission ruled that campaign contributions that are transferred from one campaign---say, for city council---to another---say, for mayor---are subject to the city's $700 contribution limit.

Specifically, the proposal would:

Limit the time period that candidates seeking local office can solicit or accept campaign contributions to January 1 of the election year to April 30 of the following year; and

Cap the maximum amount of surplus funds that a candidate could roll over to a future campaign to $5,000.

Currently, candidates are allowed to raise funds starting on May 1 three years prior to the election date until April 30 after the election, which gives incumbents, in effect, a four-year start on challengers. The new rule would only allow candidates to raise funds for 16 months.

Additionally---and more dramatically---the new rule would end the current system, which allows candidates to "roll over" unlimited funds to new campaigns (subject to contribution limits from any one donor), and replace it with a rollover limit of $5,000.

The legislation, like the ethics commission's ruling, would put a halt to any fundraising for the 2013 and 2015 campaigns. And it would particularly impact city council members like Tim Burgess and Bruce Harrell who have substantial war chests and are considering a run against Mayor Mike McGinn---a longtime ally of O'Brien's.
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