Over the last 50 or so years the role and influence of money on our electoral system has grown exponentially. The high cost of TV ads coupled with a vastly increased willingness of big business to provide the money to underwrite campaigns have been the primary drivers of this phenomenon. While it is not always the candidate with the most money that wins, it usually is. No candidate wins without having garnered huge amounts of money. Even city council races in a city the size of Seattle generate millions of dollars in campaign related expenditures.
The effects of this are felt both before and after the actual election. Candidates wishing to garner the votes of the public must first run the gauntlet of a “green primary” in which the sources of campaign cash choose which dogs will even be taken seriously in the race to be on the ballot. Potential candidates often eliminate themselves based on their knowledge that the big campaign funders will not like their political positions or by deciding that they do not want to participate in the endless pandering for campaign funds. Most news coverage in the early stages of an election focus on how well the candidates are doing at raising funds: trouble raising funds is read as “not electable.”
Once in office, a serious portion of the office holder’s workday is spent on the phone pandering for funds for their next election. And virtually every vote is made with consideration of its impact on fund raising.
When the funds for campaigns come largely from ultra-wealthy individuals and corporations, the result is a political system that represents their interests and values, not those of the general public. This is the very definition of failure for a democracy. And it is exactly what we have today.
For a more detailed account of money’s rise to power, see Introduction to the Problem of Money in US Politics.
Working to Reverse Citizens United
- Fix Democracy First, working with WAmend (WA Coalition to Amend the Constitution), is trying to get all 10 of our congressional representatives to sign on to The We the People Amendment, House Joint Resolution 48, which closely aligns with the language and intent of Initiative 735.
Increasing Public Disclosure of Campaign Contributions
- Fix Democracy First is actively working to increase public disclosure of campaigns contributions, whether it’s by an individual or a corporation or other entity.
Seattle Clean Campaigns Act
- In the fall of 2018, FDF began working with Free Speech for People to develop an ordinance for the City of Seattle that would limit super PACs and ban foreign-influenced corporations from donating to Seattle elections. FDF brought the ordinance to Seattle City Councilmember Lorena González who decided she would sponsor and champion the bill.
- Then in the summer of 2019, the Seattle Clean Campaigns Act, was formerly introduced by CM Lorena González which included the following for city elections: Prohibit political spending by corporations owned in significant part by foreign investors with a 5% combined or 1% single foreign ownership; Limit contributions to $5000 in an election cycle to “independent expenditure” political committees, thereby ending super PACs in city elections; Expand Seattle’s existing disclosure rules to require commercial advertisers to report information about political advertisements outside of the narrow context of an election campaign.
- In early 2020, public and expert hearings, two parts of the Seattle Clean Campaigns Act passed, which included: Prohibit political spending by corporations owned in significant part by foreign investors with a 5% combined or 1% single foreign ownership; Expand Seattle’s existing disclosure rules to require commercial advertisers to report information about political advertisements outside of the narrow context of an election campaign. *The piece of the act that limits contributions to $5000 in an election cycle to “independent expenditure” political committees, thereby ending super PACs in city elections, is still alive and hoping to see it pass in the summer of 2020.
Addressing Foreign Money in Elections
- Dealing with foreign money in our elections is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Since the creation of super PACs, it makes it easy for foreign-influenced corporations to funnel money into our elections. Fix Democracy First saw this as an issue and helped spearhead the Seattle Clean Campaigns ordinance in the City of Seattle with Free Speech for People and Seattle City Councilmember Lorena González to prohibit corporations and other entities from donating to Seattle elections if they have a 1% single foreign owner or a 5% combined foreign ownership. The ordinance passed in January 2020 that also included disclosure of political advertising year-round, not justduring the election cycle.
Increasing Public Disclosure of Campaign Contributions
- In 2018 and 2019, Fix Democracy First advocated for and helped pass two important disclosure bills in the WA State legislature: the WA Disclose Act of 2018 requiring nonprofit organizations to disclose their top donors if contributing to Washington State Elections; and the PAC-to-PAC Disclosure of Campaign Donations which now requires the disclosure of contributions from political committees to other political committees.
I-735: Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United
- In 2015 through fundraising and other efforts, Fix Democracy First helped bring in 40,000 signatures to get Initiative 735 on the ballot. FDF. I-735 called an amendment to pass legislation for a U.S. Constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United, establishing that corporations and other legal entities, are not persons under the U.S. Constitution, money is not equal to free speech, and that political contributions should be regulated and made public. The initiative was ultimately successful, passing with over 63% approval statewide, and in all ten congressional districts.
Fix Democracy First originally started as Washington Public Campaigns to help advocate for public funding of elections.
- We helped reverse the law that prohibited public funding of elections in WA State. Fix Democracy First, as part of Honest Elections Seattle (HES), passed Initiative 122, which created the Seattle Democracy Voucher Program. This public funding system gives eligible Seattle residents each four $25 vouchers that they can use to support the candidate(s) of their choice running for Mayor, Seattle City Council or City Attorney. Fix Democracy First continues to advocate for statewide public funding for elections.