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Spokane City Council overrides Condon veto of campaign finance reporting law

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 8, 2018, 11:39 p.m.

Mayor David Condon, right, speaks at a November 2016 news conference as City Council President Ben Stuckart looks on. A panel of citizen volunteers voted to increase Stuckart’s pay to $62,000 beginning in 2019, while keeping Condon’s level at $168,000. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Mayor David Condon, right, speaks at a November 2016 news conference as City Council President Ben Stuckart looks on. A panel of citizen volunteers voted to increase Stuckart’s pay to $62,000 beginning in 2019, while keeping Condon’s level at $168,000. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The calendar turned and a new face joined the Spokane City Council on Monday, but the panel held firm against arguments of overreach from the mayor and others that local campaign finance laws went too far.

On a 6-to-1 vote, the same tally that approved Council President Ben Stuckart’s proposed suite of legislation creating a new regulatory system and rules for political giving in December, the council overrode a veto from Mayor David Condon. Newest Councilwoman Kate Burke backed Stuckart, and City Councilman Mike Fagan continued his contrarian trend against a panel criticized as left-leaning by opponents.

Stuckart applauded the vote after the meeting, saying it would bring light to hidden sources of political money that have crept into local elections.

“I can’t wait until the next election cycle, so we can find out where the dark money is coming from,” Stuckart said.

The new law, which now takes effect without the backing of the mayor, requires political committees spending on behalf of candidates to reveal their top five donors for the first time. The measure also halves the amount any person or entity can give a political candidate in Spokane compared to the rest of the state. Stuckart and supporters said this will encourage voters to solicit more contributors, rather than court a select few well-heeled donors.

Burke, who was elected to the panel in November, said the $500 contribution limit was her main selling point on the law because it forced candidates to get out and speak to their constituents, the strategy of her campaign in northeast Spokane.

“You can’t just sit on your butt, and send a mailer out,” she said.

Fagan said he supported greater transparency in elections and limiting the influence of money. But he took issue with what he said were elements of the law that disadvantaged conservative politicians, chief among them the prohibition for firms that do business with the city for greater than $50,000 to give to local candidates, while public bargaining units may continue to give freely though they must disclose those donations on contracts.

“If this ordinance is left to stand, I think the end result is going to be this: That Mayor Condon, and Mike Fagan, will be the last conservative that gets a fair opportunity at running for, and being elected to, an office in the City of Spokane,” he said.

Fagan said there were more opportunities for progressive-leaning candidates to gather contributions in Spokane, and called the notion that city races are nonpartisan “a bunch of bullhonkey.”

Stuckart said that it was “unfortunate” Fagan and others attacked the law as partisan. He noted during the meeting that the Spokane Tribe of Indians, who gave to the Spokane County Democratic Party and City Councilwoman Candace Mumm in this year’s elections, would have been barred from doing so under the new law because of a contract for archaeological services with the city worth more than $50,000.

“Campaign finance reform isn’t a partisan issue, it’s about trying to make it more public,” Stuckart said.

Condon had criticized the law for failing to include its potential cost for enforcement. Under the new law, City Hall will be responsible for investigating complaints about violations.

Stuckart said Monday the work could be handled by a city clerk working about 20 hours a week.

“I think that $40,000, out of a $975 million budget … is a value,” Stuckart said.

The council president, who was critical before Monday’s vote about how Condon handled the announcement of his veto, said he didn’t expect the override to derail progress with the mayor’s office on other legislation and initiatives. The council has overridden Condon vetoes before, including on the city’s earned sick and safe leave policy.

“We pass lots of laws every year, and you’re not going to agree on them all,” Stuckart said. “If one vetoed law destroys the relationship, then we’re in trouble.”