While the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus was busy bringing an "education reform" bill —that they couldn't pass—to the senate floor on cutoff day yesterday afternoon, they simultaneously ignored a bill that had bipartisan support and had passed unanimously out of the government operations committee on February 3. The rules committee subsequently passed the bill, and it had been cued up for a floor vote for over a week now.
The bill would have closed a Citizens United loophole in campaign finance law that allows groups to contribute to campaigns without publicly disclosing their donations.
State Sen. Andy Billig's (D-3, Spokane) bill—which we enthusiastically (and you'll see why) Fizzed about in January when Sen. Billig first introduced it—would close a Citizens United loophole in campaign finance law that allows groups to contribute to campaigns without publicly disclosing their donations.
Nonprofits don't have to disclose campaign contributions if their primary purpose isn't tied to an election campaign. That's why the Grocery Manufacturers Association (on the conservative side against GMO labeling) and Working Washington (on the left for the SeaTac minimum wage) were able to write big checks to their pet campaigns last year without disclosing who's funding them.
Big footnote—and proof of the problem: Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the GMA because evidence suggested they had created a separate political action committee to fund the anti-GMO labelling campaign, and he used his subpoena power to make the names of the donors—including Nestle, Conagra Food, PepsiCo, and Coca Cola—public.
Unfortunately, you and I don't have subpoena power. That's why Sen. Billig introduced his bill. It would have required any group that spends $100,000 in a statewide race or $20,000 in a local race to disclose its contributors, nonprofit or not. (For some context: The GMA spent more than $11 million against GMO labeling. Working Washington, which doesn't disclose its donors—Ferguson didn't go after them—spent $230,000 on the minimum wage campaign; we do know that the Service Employees International Union is one of Working Washington's big donors.)
"I am concerned that the Senate majority’s leadership would enable dark money in politics by blocking this campaign finance accountability and transparency legislation.”—Sen. Andy Billig
In a sad press release today, Billig said: “Sometimes the schedule around a legislative cut-off date can kill bills, but that was not the case with this bill since it had been ... eligible for a vote on the Senate floor for over a week. Based on the unanimous vote out of committee ... we know the bill would have passed with a strong bipartisan majority ... I am concerned that the Senate majority’s leadership would enable dark money in politics by blocking this campaign finance accountability and transparency legislation.”
The Republican chair of the government operations committee, Sen. Pam Roach (R-31, Auburn) was a co-sponsor along with Republican Sen. Don Benton (R-17, Vancouver). She passed the bill out of her committee unanimously with Brian Dansel (R-7, Republic) in support along with the Democratic members. Democrats subsequently moved Billig's bill out of the rules committee to the floor calendar. (Each party picks the bills that have made it through the process to rules that they want on the floor calendar.)
At that point, it's the majority party's leaders who make the call: In this case Republican Sen. Joe Fain (R-47, Auburn), the Majority Coalition Caucus floor leader.
A befuddled Sen. Roach tells PubliCola: "I don't know why... I thought it was a very good bill. There are a lot of decisions being made by other people in the quote-unquote 'Majority Coalition Caucus' with no ability for any kind of discussion of whether it should come up for a vote or not. Those decisions are made by a very few people. It went out of committee 'Do Pass.' We all voted for it."
We have a message in to Sen. Fain, but to be fair: there are plenty of bills that the senate didn’t get to, even with unanimous committee and rules support. We're just bummed because we get frustrated every year at election time when generic sounding nonprofits, such as Americans for Prosperity Washington, aren't required to disclose donors at the Public Disclosure Commission.
Fain himself had a campaign finance bill—one that would have prevented legislators or the governor from fundraising off-session (like between special sessions) if they hadn't passed a budget yet in biennium budget years. Fain's bill was also cued up for a floor vote, but went nowhere. However, unlike Billig's bill, Fain's bill did not have bipartisan support; there were no Democratic co-sponsors. And the Republicans passed it out of Fain's ways and means committee without Democratic votes.