Tax dollars could be used for Seattle City Council campaigns

by: David Ham Updated:

SEATTLE - Seattle City Council members are considering a proposal to use taxpayer dollars to pay for City Council campaigns.

The proposal was approved by the Seattle Elections and Ethics Commission earlier this month.

"We modeled this on programs already in place in New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles and Albuquerque," said Wayne Barnett, of the Seattle Elections and Ethics Commission. "This is a tried-and-true way to try and get more people engaged in government."

In the current proposal, for a candidate to be eligible to receive money from the fund, they would have to collect at least 600 donations of $10 or more between January 1st of the election year and the last day that candidates can file for office.

If a candidate qualifies, the program would match $50 of each contribution with $300, up to $90,000 for the primary, then another $90,000 for the general election. All candidates must agree to limit spending to $210,000.

Paul Guppy of the Washington Policy Center is against the plan.

"It's a bad idea," said Guppy. "The reason is it forces people in the city to pay for the political careers of people they might not support."

Council member Nick Licata countered that argument.

"People who get into office spend money all the time on interest groups who are not necessarily the same as the people who vote for them," he said. "This way, your money would be going to a number of candidates who have other options to be presented."

Council member Bruce Harrell, who is also running for mayor, agreed. He thinks public funding should also apply to the mayor's race.

"It is to make sure you have your elected not owned by special interest but more representative of the communities," said Harrell.

The city estimates the program will cost anywhere from $1.16 million to $1.4 million a year.

Council members plan to have several public hearings on the issue before taking a vote.

If the Council approves the plan, the public will vote on the issue in November.