Washington State PDC Issues Letter To Support Seattle’s Defend Our Democracy Ordinance

SEATTLE, WA (September 10, 2019) — The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission has issued a letter to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to support the goals of the Defend our Democracy ordinance that would abolish super PACs and prohibit spending by foreign-influenced corporations in local elections.

The proposed legislation, presented last month to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission by Councilmember M. Lorena González, would prohibit corporations from spending money in Seattle elections if they are foreign-influenced, or owned in whole or significant part by foreign entities. The ordinance would also establish limits on contributions to “independent expenditure” political action committees, thereby abolishing super PACs in local elections.

Political spending in Seattle has skyrocketed, including $875,000 in independent expenditures this year alone in just the primary election. Many campaign finance scholars argue that super PACs have now become vehicles for wealthy donors to evade campaign contribution limits designed to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption.

In an August 24, 2019 letter to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC), PDC Chair Anne Levinson wrote that such legislation would be “another important tool to address the influence of money in campaigns, and to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of excessive corporate spending in municipal elections.”

“Seattle has the opportunity to be a leader in promoting elections that are truly free, fair, and for the people,” says Alyssa Weed, President of the League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County. “We hope the city rises to the call and supports the Defend Our Democracy Ordinance.”

“This ordinance directly addresses these issues, and Fix Democracy First, is delighted to play a lead role in advancing this local legislation which is potentially of national importance,” says Cindy Black, the Executive Director of Fix Democracy First. “We so appreciate Free Speech For People for proposing model language, Councilmember M. Lorena González for sponsoring the bill, the League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County for their wholehearted endorsement, and now the enthusiastic support of the WA Public Disclosure Commission for the goals of this legislation.”

“We are thrilled that the Public Disclosure Commission of the State of Washington has issued its support for the goals of this model legislation to address the threats posed to Seattle elections by super PACs and by foreign-influenced corporate spending,” says John Bonifaz, the Co-Founder and President of Free Speech For People. “We look forward to working with the Seattle City Council on this critical matter for our democracy. With this proposed ordinance, Seattle has the opportunity once again to help protect the integrity of its elections and to help lead the nation in confronting the influence of big money in our political process.”

In March 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in SpeechNow.org v. FEC opened the door to super PACs by holding that the federal law limiting contributions to political committees to $5,000 per person each year did not apply to a political committee that promised to make only “independent expenditures.” 

The Supreme Court’s January 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC sanctioned political spending by corporate entities as political speech protected by the First Amendment on the theory that corporations are “associations of citizens.” As many major corporations are owned in substantial part by foreign shareholders, they can now circumvent federal law which explicitly prohibits foreign nationals from making any political expenditures in U.S. elections. 

For more information about the proposed legislation and the testimony being submitted, visit: https://freespeechforpeople.org/seattle-legislation/

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