Seattle voters will be asked decide on a ballot measure that would allow some candidates for city council to use public funds for their campaigns.
Proposition 1 would use money from a small, six-year property tax increase to match some contributions to candidates involved in the program by a six-to-one ratio. That means for every $1 contributed, the candidate will receive $6 from public funds. Only the first $50 from each contributor would be matched.
Potential city council candidates will have access to these public funds only if they have completed the program’s eligibility requirements. Requirements include collecting at least 600 contributions of at least $10 each within the allotted amount of time, agreeing to participate in three debates or forums and be running against at least one other person who has at least $6,000 in combined campaign expenditures, debts and obligations and cash on hand.
The measure would set a spending cap of $140,000 for primary campaigns and $245,000 overall. The cap could only be lifted under special circumstances.
Jake Faleschini, campaign manager for Fair Elections Seattle, the group backing the proposal, says it’s a straightforward approach.
“Prop 1 is simple. It’s a public financing measure that would create a system modeled off New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles,” he said.
Publicly financed campaigns are nothing new to long-term Seattleites. City council campaigns were publicly financed throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s, said Faleschini. In the 1990s, conservatives lead a statewide initiative to privately finance campaigns.
Faleschini said a look at the demographics of city council show change is needed.
“With public financing we had a much more diverse city council. There was a time with six women on the council, and two were openly gay – in the 1980s,” Faleschini said. “When we saw public financing done away with, within two election cycles the majority of councilmembers were white men with business interests.”
Faleschini said the proposal has generally received a lot of support from civil rights leaders and elected officials throughout the city. He said to his knowledge, the only negative response to Proposition 1 came from the Seattle Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber of Commerce questions whether Proposition 1 would provide the amount of money needed to run a campaign and says that it will place a financial burden on property owners.
The increase would be approximately 1.64 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value. A person with a home worth $350,000 would pay about $5.74 more in taxes the first year of the tax.
The idea of publically financed campaigns was brought to the table in December, after the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission received a request from city councilmembers Sally Clark, Nick Licata, Mike O’Brien and Tom Rasmussen to research the public financing of campaigns and what a program would look like if implemented in Seattle, said Wayne Barnett, executive director of the Ethics and Elections Commission.
The commission then held a series of panels to gather expert and community input as well as hear testimony of city leaders from San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland; all cities which currently have or at one point did have publically financed campaigns.