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Editorial: School races need limits on campaign contributions

Every so often a bill comes along that makes us wonder why it isn’t already the law.

Such is the case with HB 2210, which would bring school board races under the same campaign finance limits as legislative, county and municipal contests. On Friday, the House easily passed the bill on a 71-24 vote and sent it to the Senate.

When the main objections are diversionary – “we have better things to do,” or “this is a Seattle problem” – it’s a good sign that a bill is a winner on the merits. That was certainly the case when this measure was discussed on the House floor.

If all bills were decided on whether some other issues were more important, the Legislature would only pass a handful of bills each year. Lawmakers are capable of handling multiple issues at once, especially when it’s a simple issue that requires no new money and is easy to implement.

Rep. Andy Billig, a Democrat from Spokane’s 3rd District, was a prime sponsor of the bill, so we know right away that this issue goes beyond Seattle, where some recent school board races have racked up extraordinarily high contribution amounts.

The recent contest for a board position at Spokane Public Schools between Deana Brower and Sally Fullmer provides a clear snapshot for why the same limits that apply to other races ought to apply to this one.

Under the bill, the limit in school board races would be $800 per contributor, just as it is for city council, county commission and legislative contests. Most contributors give much less than this. No Brower donor gave more than $500.

However, Duane Alton, the retired tire dealer and longtime foe of school finance measures, contributed $6,350 to the Fullmer campaign, which is nearly half the total she raised. Nobody was remotely close to giving this much.

The whole point of campaign limits is to encourage candidates to seek broad-based support and to prevent deep-pocketed citizens from having undue influence. Since school board races typically involve low amounts, the effect of large contributions is magnified. The limits actually make more sense in these races than in many others.

Again, nobody on the House floor made a direct case against this bill. Nobody stepped up to make the point that school board races are different, and thus need to be exempt from contribution limits.

Seeing no compelling objections, we recommend speedy passage of this bill in the Senate. It should’ve been the law all along.

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