As a former member of the Seattle City Council, I believe that Seattle Proposition 1, the public campaign finance proposal, is the most important item on the ballot this year; it is more important than the race for mayor or any other position or issue because how we vote on it will determine the kind of democracy we will have for decades.
Proposition 1 is about creating a system in which the candidate with the best ideas wins. It’s about a system in which our elected leaders think about Seattle residents first, not special interest donors.
Today, which candidates’ voices are heard depends on choices that special interests and big-money donors make about where to contribute their campaign dollars. If we, the citizens of Seattle, were the governing board for Microsoft choosing a new CEO, we would never tolerate such a situation. We would insist that each viable candidate for the job had the opportunity to fully present his or her qualifications, and we would make sure that candidates’ ability to do so did not depend on the financial support of some special interest that did not have the good of the corporation as a whole in mind.
With Proposition 1, we, the citizens of Seattle, can take back control of the process by which we choose the people who will determine the direction of our city government.
During the 2011 election cycle, 28 percent of all contributions in city council races came from outside of Seattle; more than 50 percent of contributions exceeded $600. By far the largest source of campaign funding came from real estate and developer sources. These donors clearly believed that the city council would make decisions that favored them. Imagine that you're a member of the city council who relies on these special-interest donors to win reelection; wouldn't you think twice about denying a zoning variance request, or siding against those donors in setting utility rates?
While we are not immune from actual corruption in Seattle - remember the “Strippergate” scandal from a few years ago?—the bigger problem with these donations is the constant and insidious impact that special-interest money has on every day policy decisions the council makes.
We can do better.
We have the chance in November to start fixing the problem of money in politics. Candidates for city council would have to prove their viability by raising at least 600 contributions of $10 to $50. After that, the city would match all small donations (between $10 and $50) 6-to-1. This program will allow challengers to run strong campaigns and get their message out to voters, and it will allow incumbents to govern without considering where the contributions will be coming from in the next election.
Candidates would have to cap their spending at $245,000, and could only receive up to $210,000 in public funds. The program would be funded by the smallest property tax levy in the history of the city—$6 per year for the average home in Seattle.
Seattle had a system of public financing in the 1980s. And it worked. By the end of the 1980s, Seattle had one of the most diverse city councils in its history, in large part because public financing opened city government to the people of Seattle. Seattle's system was so popular that King County adopted a similar system of public financing by public referendum. Now is our chance to bring back public financing.
Seattle Proposition 1 has widespread support. It's one of the only issues that nearly every progressive candidate you will see on this November’s ballot agrees with. Seattle Proposition 1 is also endorsed by the Municipal League, the Stranger, OneAmerica, the King County Labor Council, the Sierra Club, the Poverty Action Network, and many, many more.
With Seattle Proposition 1, we have a once in a generation chance to take back our democracy, expand the diversity of our city council, make your votes count more than money, and move Seattle forward.
Please vote “Yes” on Seattle Proposition 1.