Seattle council member on mission to oust foreign money from local politics

Sep 6, 2019, 9:30 AM | Updated: Nov 11, 2019, 8:56 am

A Seattle council member is crafting new legislation aimed at not only getting big money out of city politics, but also foreign money and influence. The bill could affect the city’s largest corporations that donate to local elections.

Seattle Councilmember Lorena González is spearheading the bill, and is currently passing it around city committees for review. She plans to officially submit it to the council in early 2020.

“Really at the end of the day what this bill is going to do is send a clear message to folks who seek to buy our elections that that kind of behavior is not going to be permitted in the city of Seattle and our local elections,” González told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross.

Council candidates who the Seattle Chamber endorses

The bill aims to do this in three ways:

  • Defines foreign-influenced corporations, foreign investors, and foreign owners. It prohibits them from making political contributions in local elections. If a company has more than 1 percent of shareholders who are foreign nationals, it would be prohibited from making political contributions.
  • It limits contributions for independent expenditure committees to $5,000 per PAC.
  • It amends disclosure requirements for qualified public communications. This way when voters see ads online or in the media, it is indicated which special interest is behind the ad.

The bill is broad enough to include ballot measures as well as contributions to candidate campaigns. According to González, political contributions in municipal elections have grown from $556,000 in 2013 to nearly $1.3 million in 2017. Her office also notes that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security state that Russia, China, Iran and other countries are actively trying to influence elections in the United States.

The effort comes as the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s PAC — the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, or CASE — has poured considerable funds into the city council race. CASE has reportedly put $380,000 into current campaigns. Among CASE’s top contributors are Puget Sound Energy and the Washington Realtors Association. By March, months before the council primaries, CASE had raised $485,000.

Foreign money and Seattle elections

Amazon also donated $200,000 to CASE earlier this year. Currently, Amazon does not have to reveal how many of its investors are foreign. Under González’s bill, the company would have to disclose this information to the city’s Ethics and Elections Commission. She says that there is no data to state whether or not Amazon would eventually fall under the prohibitions of the bill, but “I suspect that they might” she said.

It is unclear how many donations to local campaigns have come from foreign money in the past. But González argues it has been happening.

“There are many corporations that may have significant ownership by foreign nationals that have been making contributions in our local elections, not just this year but in prior years,” González said. “And I think that is in conflict with the voice of our voters who voted overwhelmingly in favor of our honest elections law which allows us to have democracy vouchers and a greater focus on the will of the voters as opposed to the deep pockets of corporate donors.”

Labor groups and unions have also been spending big money in local elections. González said that the bill does not specifically target corporate PACs versus labor money, rather, it deals with who is behind the PACs.

“There is a long precedent under US Supreme Court law and federal law that has already determined that foreign nationals are not allowed to legally contribute to local elections,” she said. “The fact that foreign nationals have found a work around to be able to do effectively that, violate the law, contributing through corporations, is problematic … this is going to be more about who owns the interests of these corporations. Whether it is a labor union or a corporation is not necessarily relevant.”

Council candidates the tech industry supports

Seven out of nine council positions are up for reelection in November 2019, providing the potential for significant change on the dais.

So far, González has submitted her bill to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission for review.

Dave Ross on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dave rossTune in to KIRO Radio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

Dave's Commentary

Dave Ross

Steve Bannon...
Dave Ross

Ross: The person who really needs to testify about Jan. 6 riot isn’t Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon may be the one summoned to testify in Congress about Jan. 6, but there's someone else who has more to answer for.
1 day ago
Freedom, vaccine mandate...
Dave Ross

Ross: Freedom requires level of unselfishness many in our country don’t have

Total freedom requires a level of unselfishness that doesn't come naturally for a lot of people, as we've seen firsthand with the state vaccine mandate.
2 days ago
car tabs, Orting...
Dave Ross

Ross: Did you vote for I-976 car tab cuts in 2019? Wish granted

While a vaccine mandate cost the ferry system 7% of its staff, let’s remember this is happening in a state that was ready to impose bigger cuts two years ago.
3 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: May we live long and prosper with our vaccine choices

Talk show host Dennis Praeger decided to put it all on the line to prove he’s right about vaccines.
4 days ago
Flu vaccine...
MyNorthwest Staff

A new ‘universal’ flu-COVID shot on the horizon, says local MD

Mercer Island’s Dr. Gordon Cohen discusses how future iterations of the COVID mRNA vaccine could also treat seasonal flu.
5 days ago
Crypto power plant...
Dave Ross

Ross: The troubling downside behind megawatts of crypto-power

Power plants feeding Bitcoin miners will create jobs, but they’ll do it by pumping CO2 into the air in service of creating more of the currency.
5 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Seattle council member on mission to oust foreign money from local politics