Public Financing "Debate" on Senate Floor
Cross posted here.
Yesterday (3/6/07), the Washington State Senate began debate on Substitute Senate Bill 5278, enabling
to consider Public Financing of Political Campaigns. As you can see, the original bill started out as an effort to allow local governments to consider
public financing. However, before the bill could get out of the Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee, the committee chair, Senator Darlene Fairley (D 32ndLD) determined that "local" was too broad in scope to assure passage in the full Senate. Therefore, she felt compelled to offer an amendment to change "local" to "cities." It was this substitute that was brought to the floor of the senate for debate. Just to be crystal clear, this is the language that was brought to the Senate floor for debate:
1 AN ACT Relating to use of public funds for political purposes; and
2 amending RCW 42.17.128.
3 BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON:
4 Sec. 1. RCW 42.17.128 and 1993 c 2 s 24 are each amended to read
5 as follows:
6 Public funds, whether derived through taxes, fees, penalties, or
7 any other sources, shall not be used to finance political campaigns for
8 state or local office, except that the legislative authority of a city
9 may establish a program allowing the use of public funds to finance
10 campaigns for local office.
--- END ---
p. 1 SSB 5278
Senator Rosa Franklin
(D 29thLD), the Prime Sponsor, introduced the bill, reminded members that this was the virtually the same bill they had seen last year (except that it had been reduced to cities only). She also reminded the members that the city of Seattle had actually participated in a public financing process before the enactment of Initiative 134 in 1993 and that the legislature had been trying since then to reinstate the process.
Senator Joseph Zarelli (R 18thLD) then rose in opposition. Sen. Zarelli started out by reminding the senators that they were talking about tax dollars. He then told the story of a Portland, Oregon city councilwoman who had been elected under that city's public financing plan and then, a year later, was convicted of fraud after it was determined that she had abused the system. Now I'm not sure that Zarelli was inferring that anyone who runs under public financing might be a crook but he certainly didn't indicate that there might be elected officials who were not elected with public money who might have been convicted of anything.
Senator Harriet Spanel (D 40thLD) then spoke in favor and, once again, reminded the senators that Seattle used to do this.
And then "My Senator" - Senator Jean Berkey (D 38thLD) rose to speak in opposition to the bill. Senator Berkey said that, while the underlying goal of public financing of campaigns was "laudable" the "timing is not." She said that our state's economic vitality is precarious and she worried that cities might have to cut services or raise taxes to provide for public financing. She said that she could not support public financing while there were better things to spend the tax payers' money on. However Senator Berkey (perhaps harkening back to her days on the Government Operations and Elections Committee) ended by saying that she would support a public vote to see if the citizens of Washington would like to have their tax dollars spent on political campaigns.
After Senator Berkey spoke, Senators Ed Murray (D 43rdLD) and Eric Oemig (D 45thLD) rose to speak in favor with Oemig offering that, as businesses see the advantage in "investing in candidates", shouldn't citizens be afforded the same opportunity to invest in candidates who would represent them.
And then we fell the rest of the way down the rabbit hole. Enter Senator Pam Roach (R 31stLD) - Cue Darth Vader theme -
Senator Roach began by suggesting she was speaking by popular demand of Senator Bob McCaslin (R 4thLD) who insisted that she MUST speak to this bill. Roach, after demanding that passing SSB 5278 would be, "One of the worst things that we could be doing." spoke thus:
"Do you understand what we are talking about doing here? We are talking about a bill that will allow public funding of our elections." She continued that public financing would be, "completely contrary to the system we have had in this country..."
At this point I must remind you that SSB 5278 would only allow cities to consider and possibly adopt public financing for political campaigns.
At this point, Senator Roach began to channel Karl Rove. She charged that allowing public campaign financing would "end the need for candidates to speak directly to their constituents." In fact, Roach asserted that publicly financed candidates, "will essentially grab the check and be elected and never have to face the electorate." She said that, with public financing, there will be, "no more Ice Cream Socials or Spaghetti Dinners."
Senator Roach then went on to worry about the lack of fraud protections in the bill. She said that public financing will advance "non-viable candidates." She referred back to Senator Zarelli's story of fraud and abuse in Oregon and then suggested that public financing might be, "A good way to fund your college education." Senator Roach ended her floor time with (perhaps) a nod to Senator Berkey; " Taxpayers should not be "forced" to pay for political campaigns."
Apparently sensing imminent defeat of what should have been a simple vote to allow cities to assume local control over how they would administer and finance elections within their municipal jurisdictions, Senate Floor Leader Tracey Eide (D 30thLD) abruptly moved to defer the bill for further consideration.
I freely admit that I am not the sharpest tool in the shed but I am absolutely lost here. How do we get from "allowing consideration of public financing" to "non-viable candidates" waiting in the wings to de-fraud the tax payers? How do educated people who have been elected to the position of State Senator somehow believe that by simply allowing the citizens of the City of Everett to discuss public financing with their elected representatives, we will immediately jump to a situation where we have drained the city treasury? In an email from Craig Salins at Washington Public Campaigns we are reminded that there is no such thing as a "sure thing." Salins offers:
" Even though in the Senate it is 32-17 (Ds-Rs), if 8 or more Ds vote No, we lack a majority to pass the bill, or if some are absent, we lack votes.
Three Ds have declared opposition (Berkey, Hargrove(24th) and Hatfield(19th )); several more are shaky or unknown (Hobbs(44th), Kauffman(47th), Marr(6th), Rasmussen(2nd)).
With Prentice(11th) and Tom(48th), we're unsure. And with one or two absences, we lack a majority."
In checking on the current status of this bill, it appears that a couple more amendments are being circulated in hopes of reaching final passage. Senator Franklin has introduced the "Berkey Amendment" that would put any effort to enact public financing at a city level to a referendum of the people. Then we have Senator Mark Schoesler (R 9thLD) who is offering what we shall refer to as "the Surgeon General's Warning on Public Financing of Political Campaigns at the City Level." Senator Schoesler's amendment calls for all publicly financed candidates to provide the following disclaimer on all political advertising: "Paid for at taxpayer expense."
Folks, as you can see, the information that is being spread on this bill is mis-leading, false, or just mis-informed. If you have not called your senator, please call them now! If you know someone on the districts mentioned here, please call them and have them call their senator! If this bill fails, it cannot be because we did not act!
Chad (The Left) Shue