Seattle City Council scores partial win in bid to curb campaign spending

Jan 8, 2020, 7:56 AM | Updated: 7:56 am
Lorena Gonzalez, regional homeless authority, Seattle City Council, campaign spending...
Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez. (AP file Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP file Photo/Ted S. Warren)

On her final day on the job before heading out for maternity leave, new Seattle City Council President Lorena Gonzalez scored a partial victory in her campaign finance reform efforts.

After massive spending, fight rages on for bill to curb Seattle PAC money

Two of three bills she’s proposed in the hopes of keeping big companies like Amazon from trying to buy local elections were unanimously passed out committee, setting the stage for full council votes next Monday.

Gonzalez first proposed a single bill that has now been split into three, in part to better prepare for expected court challenges to some of the legislation should they become law.

On Tuesday, Gonzalez’ Select Committee on Campaign Finance Reform approved a bill that would ban most political spending from corporations considered “foreign-influenced.”

Under the bill, foreign-influenced corporations would be those with one non-American investor holding at least 1 percent ownership, two or more with at least 5 percent ownership, or any non-American investor that takes part in decisions regarding political activities in the U.S.

While there are some federal regulations regarding foreign influenced political spending, the Seattle proposal is more stringent, and would close some loopholes in the federal regulations often considered to be too lenient.

Under the city’s proposal, companies that meet the new foreign investor threshold, expected to include Amazon, Uber and others, would not be able to directly contribute to candidates or to make independent expenditures. Companies that want to make such contributions would have to self-certify they do not meet the threshold for foreign-influenced. This would not apply to ballot measures.

CM Gonzalez on mission to oust foreign money from local politics

The committee also approved a bill that enhances reporting requirements for commercial advertisers, requiring them to keep records not just on candidate elections, but also ads on policy decisions such as the head tax.

“At a minimum, we are requiring a level of transparency that really allows the person who is receiving the message and being targeted by the message to understand who they’re being targeted by,” Gonzalez said of the enhanced records requirements for advertisers.

The third and most controversial bill would limit the amount of money corporations can contribute to PACs. That bill was amended, and a committee vote was subsequently put on hold. As Gonzalez put it, the council could build up the legislative record on the policy. That is needed because the bill – should it pass – is expected to be challenged in court, and could ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Seattle City Council scores partial win in bid to curb campaign spending