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Initiative Fails To Put Brakes On Spending Analysis Shows Campaign Measure Made Contributions Harder To Trace

Associated Press

Initiative 134 was supposed to give more clout to political parties. It has.

Initiative 134 was supposed to give average voters more clout, too. It hasn’t.

Those are among the chief findings of an analysis of the campaign finance law adopted by Washington voters in 1992.

Not only did the measure fail to curb campaign spending, it made campaign contributions harder to trace and thus reduced accountability, the Seattle Times reported Sunday in a copyright article.

“I suppose I’d give it a C-plus,” said Joel Pritchard, a Republican, former lieutenant governor and U.S. representative who helped draft the measure.

State Public Disclosure Commission officials estimate total campaign spending within the agency’s jurisdiction at $65 million last year, a 28 percent increase.

Initiative 134 governs statewide elected officials and legislators. Members of Congress and the president are covered by federal law.

One provision of the initiative wiped out public financing for candidates for local office who agreed to observe campaign spending limits in Seattle and King County.

Since it took effect, said Carolyn Van Noy, executive director of Seattle’s Ethics and Elections Commission, the average cost of a City Council campaign rose from $105,000 in 1993 to $172,000 in 1995, or 64 percent.

“The cost of campaigns is out of control,” Van Noy said. “That has a chilling effect on potential candidates.”

Spending on legislative races declined by about 3 percent from 1992 to 1996, despite about 12 percent inflation during that period, but the money spent on campaigns for statewide office rose by 20 percent.

In overall spending covered by Initiative 134, business interests gave $8.7 million in 1996, a 25 percent increase over 1992, and labor unions more than $4 million, a 23 percent increase, state Public Disclosure Commission figures show.

Before the measure, any person or group could give any amount to any candidate, who had to report each contribution to the commission.

Now contributions from individuals, corporations, labor unions and political action committees may not exceed $1,100 to any legislative candidate and $2,200 to anyone running for statewide office.

Contributions to political parties remain unlimited, however, and the parties may give as much as 28 cents per voter to legislative candidates and 55 cents per voter for statewide campaigns - in addition to spending on party image advertising, organizing and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Money given to the two major parties more than tripled as 139 Democratic committees collected $7.1 million in 1996, compared with $2.3 million for 86 Democratic committees in 1992, and 103 Republican groups got nearly $9 million in 1996, compared with $2.8 million for 70 groups in 1992.

In elections for governor, party money was insignificant for Republican Ken Eikenberry and Democrat Mike Lowry in 1992 but provided almost 11 percent of Democrat Gary Lock’s campaign funds and nearly 23 percent of the money gathered by Republican Ellen Craswell last year.

“I like that,” said former state Secretary of State Bruce Chapman of the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank. “One of the problems in the country is that political parties have lost their longstanding role, which means that other, less … accountable organizations take up that role in the political system.

“I think it’s valuable to restore, as 134 has to some extent, the role of legitimate parties.”

Another effect of the initiative has been the rise of independent groups that may raise money to spend on behalf of candidates but without any involvement of the candidates’ own campaign organizations.

Last year the Building Industry Association of Washington, consisting of about 6,000 home builders and related contractors, and the business group United For Washington financed 25 of the 27 independent expenditure committees statewide. Nearly half the candidates receiving money from those groups won election.

“I-134 did nothing except create avenues for hiding the money better,” said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, who survived attacks by one of the independent groups.

Sue Tupper of Seattle, a consultant who ran Lowry’s winning campaign in 1992 and the unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial campaign of Mayor Norm Rice last year, said the law also forces candidates to spend more time raising money.

“That means those people who have put their necks on the line have no opportunity to prepare for office,” Tupper said. “Instead, they spend every waking moment trying to raise dough. That’s a very sad outcome.”

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