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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Lawmakers never have time for campaign finance reform

Campaign finance reform appears to be dead for this session of the Washington Legislature, and if it’s dead for this session, it’s dead for the next as well, because no politician is going to tamper with the money spigot during a campaign year.

Republicans say SB 5153 wasn’t on the Senate calendar as days for the regular session ticked to zero. Somehow, campaign finance is never on the calendar.

To a man and woman, Republican and Democrat, all supported the bill just one month ago. The House passed a slightly amended version two weeks ago by a 2-to-1 margin. But when the bill went back to the Senate for final action, the votes were not there to even bring it to the floor.

As a matter of parliamentary procedure, the senators could have brought it to the floor for a vote. Once there, the senators could have rejected the amended version, and notified House leadership that they would OK the unamended bill, period.

That was fine with Sen. Andy Billig, SB 5153’s prime sponsor. But with the end of the Legislature’s regular session looming, he pushed for action on the bill, one way or the other. Senate Republicans refused to be pushed.

It’s all “incidental.”

Some nonprofit groups do not want donor identities disclosed if the organization’s campaign donations are not the focus of its interactions with officials. Trade groups like the Associated General Contractors are active in Olympia all the time, representing members when, for example, building code changes are under consideration.

When the campaign season rolls around, they have separate political action committees bound to report their activities and contributors to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission. The law enables the public and candidates to know who is paying for expenses like advertising.

But some groups were skirting the law by claiming that whatever campaign contributions they made were incidental to their main purpose, and that members who want to be hands-off should be able to keep their names off the public record.

Billig’s bill takes away that privilege when an organization’s campaign contributions exceed $25,000. Above that threshold, the participation is no longer incidental, and names of the top 10 donors of $10,000 or more, and anyone who contributes $100,000, must be filed with the PDC.

The changes the House made to the reporting requirements were relatively minor, and did not dissuade 13 Republicans from voting for the bill.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, the majority leader, says Democrats have been impatient, and that SB 5153 is not necessarily dead for this year. With Gov. Jay Inslee calling for an overtime session, there may be time yet for resuscitation.

With the long list of unfinished business still on the table – and it’s fair to finger the Democrats here – it’s hard to be optimistic. There never seems to be enough time for campaign finance reform.

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