DAVE ROSS

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's Commentary

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

Dave Ross

privacy pods...

Dave Ross

Ross: Tracking employees’ vital signs at work via privacy pods, what could go wrong?

I saw a Bloomberg story about the latest innovation to reduce your stress level at work: Privacy pods.

14 days ago

car culture...

Dave Ross

Ross: Are we killing car culture? Or is car culture killing the US?

I don’t think the question is whether we're going to "kill" our car culture. The real question is can we stop our car culture from killing the U.S.?

21 days ago

drivers data insurance...

Dave Ross

Ross: As cars release driving data to insurance, is your driving my business?

Every move you make, every swerve you take, every lane change you fake – someone’s watching you. Do drivers have a right to keep driving data private?

28 days ago

rent control...

Dave Ross

Ross: Rent control was never the answer in Wash.

The rent control bill died in the Washington State Legislature this week, even though Democrats control both houses.

2 months ago

end of democracy...

Dave Ross

Ross: Conservative activist earns applause for pledging an ‘end of Democracy’

The theme from Jack Posobiec's speech is that Jan. 6 was a righteous attack not on democracy, but on those who threaten democracy.

2 months ago

Image: Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colorado, is seen on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2023. (Photo: Alex Brand...

Dave Ross

Ross: Voters can help cull bad politicians from the herd early

Let's remember that just about every occupant of a higher office once occupied a lower office, and was put there by us, Dave Ross says.

2 months ago

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