SEATTLE — Seattle is considering spending $1.5 million a year to publicly fund City Council campaigns. Supporters argue it’s about getting more people into the process.
“This will basically get money out of politics,” said City Councilman Nick Licata, a sponsor of the measure.
He argued the goal is clear: “To allow for more candidates, perhaps more diversity of candidates, but they will have to work for the public campaign financing,” Licata said. “It will not be just given away.”
The proposal would provide up to $210,000 in public money per candidate for a City Council position ($105,000 for the primary election and $105,000 for the general election). To be eligible, a candidate would be required to raise money in small amounts. Every $50 contribution would be matched 6-to-1 with public funds. So, a $50 private check would mean a $300 public match.
“By having many smaller contributions, you end up with interests and issues that maybe are a little more neighborhood-oriented, maybe oriented towards groups that don’t really often have a voice,” Licata said.
But opponents aren’t convinced of the need.
“You have to ask yourself if this a really good investment of public dollars,” said Bill Maurer, executive director of the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter, which engages in constitutional litigation in the areas of economic liberty, private property rights, educational choice and freedom of speech.
He argued that Seattle already has competitive elections.
“We have a better record of voting incumbents out of office than most of the cities than have public financing systems,” he said.
Maurer said that the average contribution to Seattle City Council campaigns now is $223, which, he argues, is not a problem.
“$223 is not big money,” Maurer said. “If we have politicians that are capable of changing their positions because of a $220 contribution, then we have a lot bigger problems than what public campaign financing can solve.”
This plan would be voluntary. Candidates wouldn’t have to participate if they felt they could do better on their own. But for those who do opt in, they would be limited to spending $250,000 on their campaign.
Voters are expected to have the final say.
Council members are proposing a property tax levy, to pay for this, on the ballot this November. To raise $1.5 million annually, the levy would cost the average Seattle homeowner about $5.75 a year.