Seattle considering public-funded campaign financing plan

Apr 22, 2013

The cost of running for public office keeps rising, and Seattle City Council members worry the need to fund expensive campaigns gives people with deep pockets a louder voice.

While money doesn’t seem to play the outsized role in Seattle elections that it does in national or even state campaigns, longtime council member Nick Licata is concerned.

A typical city council campaign costs about a quarter of a million dollars. In the past decade, Licata notes, the average size of donations has nearly doubled.

“The number of small contributors is shrinking. The number of large contributors is increasing. And that means, I think, that people with more money have more influence over government, and that’s a trend we want to reverse,” Licata said.

One solution, Licata says, is to use public money to help candidates get their message out.

Seattle has had public campaign financing in the past. In fact, Licata says the cash he received during his first run for office in 1979 helped him leverage private donations into a viable—though ultimately unsuccessful—campaign.

A state initiative in 1992 ­banned public financing. But in 2008, the Legislature restored the right of local governments to have such programs, provided they are approved by voters and use only local money.

Now the council plans to study a new campaign financing scheme at a series of meeting starting next week. The proposal would, for example, give candidates who raise $15,000 in small contributions of $10 to $25 each a four-to-one match of public money.

The program is projected to cost about $1.5 million per year. Backers hope to put a measure before Seattle voters for approval in November.