Campaign contributions for elected offices in state, county and city governments are limited to a maximum of $1,600. But smaller political races, such as school board, fire commissioner, park board and water district commissioner, have no limits.
Washington voters in 1992 overwhelmingly approved restrictions on donations to legislative candidates and the law was expanded last year to include all county, city council and mayoral candidates.
“School boards should be next,” said state Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, who plans to bring a bill on the issue during the 2012 legislative session. “I think there should be limits in all races. It gives voters confidence. It’s about no one person or group having excessive influence.”
The state representative says the bill was not motivated by any particular school board race.
But the Spokane Public Schools board race offers an example where money might suggest influence.
Candidates Sally Fullmer and Deana Brower have each collected nearly $13,000.
Brower, who has been endorsed by the Spokane Education Association – the district employees’ union, representing more than 3,000 members – hasn’t received any contribution over $500. She’s gotten two separate $400 donations from the Washington Education Association, the statewide union.
Fullmer has collected more than $6,300 in campaign contributions from one person – Duane Alton. The former tire store owner, a Liberty Lake resident, has been a vocal opponent of school-funding measures recently, including bonds and levies in the Spokane, Central Valley, East Valley, Coeur d’Alene and Orchard Prairie school districts.
He’s also financially supported conservative candidates and action groups, according to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission. But Alton’s contributions to Fullmer are the largest he’s made to a single candidate.
“Most of the candidates that he’s contributed to have had limits, so the contributions had to stay below $1,600,” said PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson.
Fullmer said she supposed Alton’s support is because “he agrees with my message of accountability, transparency, improved academic results, less bureaucracy – efficient administration with less spending.”
She did not indicate any familiarity with him, other than to say she’s had a “conversation” with him.
Alton claims his support is because he knows Fullmer’s family. Also, “I do think she wants to improve the quality of education for students in our area.”
Regardless, Fullmer appreciates the help, she said. “I don’t have the whole (school) district supporting me.”