Two Washington state ballot initiatives deal with campaign finance reform. Our recommendations:
Initiative 1464: This reform effort spans two dozen pages and tries to achieve many goals. Too many. Boiling it down to a signature-gathering pitch must’ve been quite a challenge.
The idea is to offset powerful political interests by giving citizens three $50 “democracy credits” they can spend on candidates for state office every two years, as long as those candidates agree to a set of campaign contribution limits.
In theory, this would free up time for politicians to do the people’s work, rather than dialing for dollars. And it would allow the average citizen to contribute to candidates. In reality, special interests have found ways around myriad public-financing and contribution-limit reforms that have been imposed since the Watergate era.
The vouchers are uncharted territory that could lead to unintended consequences. The city of Seattle adopted a similar idea, which will be implemented next year.
Let’s look at those results before taking a leap.
The initiative would cost $171.5 million over the first six years, according to the Office of Financial Management, to pay for the credits and beefed-up enforcement of campaign laws. This money would be raised by ending the sales-tax exemption for out-of-state shoppers. OFM says this could impact retail sales and B&O tax revenue.
When the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee reviewed tax exemptions in 2012, it recommended a continuation of this exemption, noting that border communities near states with no sales tax (Oregon) or a lower sales tax (Idaho) would be the most vulnerable if it were ended.
Plus, at a time when legislators are struggling to meet basic education and mental health funding imperatives, closing a tax loophole for some other purpose strikes us as ill-timed.
I-1464 has some admirable reforms, such as strengthening disclosure and transparency laws. It also would impose a three-year waiting period on departing government officials who wish to lobby their former colleagues.
We could support a trimmed-down initiative that seeks those reforms, but this one tries to accomplish too much.
Initiative 735: If passed, this initiative would be a declaration to our leaders in Washington, D.C., that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling ought to be overturned with a constitutional amendment. Citizens United lifted the cap on outside spending on elections, equating it with free speech.
The message would be nonbinding. Congress could choose to ignore some or all of it.
We think Congress should focus on “dark money” disclosure, which, contrary to popular belief, is not prohibited by Citizens United. Plus, it doesn’t require the lengthy process of a constitutional amendment.
If you support a constitutional amendment, contact your federal representatives. We simply don’t like the trend of cluttering the ballot with advisory votes that “send a message.”
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