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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

With veto of City Council ordinance, Condon says campaign finance better left to the state

Spokane Mayor David Condon talks during a Sept. 14, 2016, interview at City Hall. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Mayor David Condon said Friday he would veto a campaign finance law passed by the City Council earlier this month that would impose new reporting requirements and halve the maximum amount a candidate can receive from any single donor.

The mayor said he supports certain efforts to curb the role of “dark money” in politics. But he said the issue is better managed at the state level and predicted the proposed ordinance would not stand up to constitutional challenges.

“The issue of transparency, I think, is universal,” Condon said in a phone call. “Everybody is in agreement there. But prohibiting one group versus another (from making campaign contributions) is where you start getting into some legal issues.”

He was referring to a lack of parity in the way the ordinance would treat unions and private companies that contribute to political campaigns. City Councilman Mike Fagan offered the same reasoning when he cast the lone vote against the ordinance on Dec. 18. The ordinance also faced opposition from the Spokane County Republican Party and the Spokane Homebuilders Association.

Council President Ben Stuckart, who spearheaded the proposal, said he was “flabbergasted” to learn of the veto Friday from a news release from the mayor’s office. Stuckart said the council had been considering the proposal for three months and “not once” did Condon raise concerns about it.

“He’s literally said nothing to me,” Stuckart said. “I think that’s horrible governance.”

Stuckart has argued the ordinance would restore a degree of fairness to an election system that has drowned out the will of average citizens in the wake of the landmark 2010 Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which equates campaign spending by corporations with free speech.

Using a phrase from case law, Condon stressed that government restrictions on speech must be “viewpoint-neutral” and said the city ordinance wouldn’t meet that standard.

Condon also characterized the proposal as the City Council’s latest attempt to legislate a matter beyond its purview. He offered support for a bill by state Sen. Andy Billig that would have a similar effect as the city ordinance. Condon said Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission is better equipped than the city to enforce campaign finance abuses.

“The PDC has done the investigations, there’s been fines,” Condon said. “You know, the system seemingly is working on compliance.”

The City Council could override the veto with five votes, and Stuckart said he would talk with his colleagues about that possibility. Councilwoman Kate Burke, Billig’s former legislative aide, was sworn in days after the ordinance passed, replacing Councilwoman Amber Waldref.

Condon has signed only a handful of vetoes in his five years as mayor. In the span of six months beginning in November 2015, he vetoed three ordinances that passed the City Council by wide margins – on transit, manufactured home parks and the city’s paid sick leave policy – only to have those vetoes overridden by similar vote totals.