Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Tax Dollars For Political Campaigns? It’s On Washington’s Ballot

Paul Guppy of the Washington Policy Center, left, and Peter McCollum of Integrity Washington speak with host Austin Jenkins on the set of TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program about Initiative 1464, which would create a publicly financed option for campaigns. ";s:3:

It’s been 44 years since Washington voters approved an initiative to require the disclosure of campaign contributions – and 24 years since voters enacted limits on campaign donations. Now comes a proposal to update those laws and usher in a new era of publicly-financed elections.

Initiative 1464 on the November ballot is a 23-page rewrite of the laws governing political campaigns in Washington.

"The laws here in Washington haven’t been updated in more than 25 years," said  Peter McCollum, a spokesman for advocates of I-1464. "In that time, the influence of big money in politics, and in elections in Washington state, has exploded."

The initiative would do a lot of things. But the biggest change it proposes is repeal of the prohibition on using public dollars to fund campaigns. In fact, I-1464 would create a new system of public financing in Washington state—similar to one adopted by Seattle voters last year.

"By creating a voluntary system that everybody can choose whether or not they want to direct some of their dollars to a candidate, then it makes candidates more responsive to the people that they’re supposed to be working for—the public," McCollum said.

Here’s how it would work. Washington voters would each earn $150 in so-called “democracy credits” to spend in support of candidates who agree to abide by a set of restrictions. Initially, the program would apply just to candidates for the state legislature in even-year elections.

Funding for the “democracy credits” would come from closing a tax exemption that allows Oregon residents to shop tax-free in Washington.

"This is coercive, political donations that are taken from our tax money," said I-1464 opponent Paul Guppy of the Washington Policy Center, a right-of-center think tank. He said tax dollars have no business in partisan politics.

"That is public money that is going to a candidate that me or my neighbors might be working to defeat," Guppy said. "So you end up being in the ironic situation that your neighbor is designating tax money to a candidate that you strongly oppose."

Guppy and McCollum debated the initiative on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.

In addition to creating a system of public election financing, I-1464 would restrict campaign contributions to candidates from lobbyists and state contractors. It would also limit the revolving door between state service and lobbying, and increase penalties for campaign finance violations.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."