Mayor David Condon’s veto of the city’s new system targeting secretive campaign spending came with reasoning City Council President Ben Stuckart can’t accept.
“I have heard ‘This is a state issue’ so many times,” Stuckart said. “I ask myself, then why did I run for office?”
The City Council will vote Monday on whether to override the mayor’s veto, signed last week with a flurry of concerns that include what Condon said are unfair standards for private businesses and public unions, unknown costs and abridgment of free speech rights. Several council members, four of whom must join Stuckart to enact the law over Condon’s reservations, took issue last week with the mayor’s addition to what has become a familiar refrain: The council is acting outside the scope of its authority.
“We keep hearing this from the mayor, and hearing this from other people in the community,” said City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear. “But this is what is happening all across the country, especially in midsize cities. We’re not getting action from state and federal legislators.”
In a letter to the council signed Tuesday explaining his veto, Condon referenced legislation introduced by Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, in Olympia that he said would address “many of the issues raised” by the local law. The city legislation imposes even more regulations by halving the maximum amount an individual can give to a candidate for local office to $500, prohibiting firms with contracts with the city worth more than $50,000 from giving to candidates and requiring collective bargaining units doing business with the city to list their campaign donations on contracts with City Hall.
The difference in how the law treats private contractors and public unions was made at the request of legal advisers at City Hall, Stuckart and City Councilman Breean Beggs have said. The provision was cited in Condon’s letter accompanying the veto and also prompted the lone vote on the panel against the law, from City Councilman Mike Fagan. He said the regulations appeared to target donor sources more likely to give to conservative candidates, compared with public unions that more heavily back liberal-leaning lawmakers.
“The whole issue is definitely lopsided,” Fagan said.
Beggs said the argument used by Fagan and opponents of the law, including the Spokane County Republican Party and the Spokane Homebuilders Association, that the city should leave the issue up to the state also appeared politically motivated.
“I look at cities as the laboratories for state government,” Beggs said. “When people tell me, ‘You guys are out of your lane,’ usually it’s people that don’t like what we’re doing on that particular case.”
Beggs said after reviewing the court cases provided by Condon questioning the legality of the ordinance, he believed the law was on even firmer footing and would vote to override the veto Monday. Fagan said he, too, didn’t expect to change his opposition to the ordinance and would vote to uphold Condon’s veto.
The council must decide within 30 days whether to enact a law by overriding the mayor’s veto, according to the City of Spokane Charter. Overriding a veto requires a majority plus one of the council to agree, meaning five members must agree to pass the law.
City Councilwoman Amber Waldref voted in favor of the new regulations in one of her last acts as a council member. Councilwoman Kate Burke, who will cast her first votes as a city lawmaker Monday taking Waldref’s place, asked Stuckart to delay the vote to override the veto. The panel had originally been scheduled to consider the veto at a study session Thursday.
Burke said she’d take the weekend to review the legislation and was considering adding provisions to ensure those running for local office and their campaign workers understood the new laws on top of state regulations enforced by the Public Disclosure Commission.
“I really want to make sure candidates and treasurers are successful,” Burke said.
A majority of council members said the concerns raised by Condon should have been addressed before the law was passed.
“I hope in the future, if he has concerns about the things we’re working on, including legal concerns, he (will) discuss that with us,” said City Councilwoman Candace Mumm. “Rather than at the eleventh hour, start the discussion with a veto. That seems counterproductive to me.”
Stuckart said he solicited comments around Spokane this fall, when he began discussing plans to bring the ordinance forward.
“We had 90 days with this,” Stuckart said. “We went public with this the third week of September.”
Mumm and Kinnear said they, like Burke, still were reviewing the legislation and would listen to testimony Monday night about the ordinance. City Councilwoman Karen Stratton didn’t respond to a call requesting comment Friday.
The council is scheduled to consider overriding the veto during its regularly scheduled meeting, beginning at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.
“We’re voting on this Monday,” Stuckart said. “There is no need for more time.”