By now, Washington state voters are familiar with the Seattle Process:
- A policy proposal is sketched out on the whiteboard at Democratic HQ.
- A beta test commences on the hustings — the Seattle electorate is a test group for determining how to get the public to approve the experimental idea.
- Having used Seattle as a proving ground, the idea is pushed in Olympia, then a statewide initiative (if legislative efforts are not successful), and even exported to other states.
Now, another Seattle-hatched idea — socialized financing of political campaigns — is being uploaded into the statewide mainframe. The current piece of political malware is Initiative 1464, a sleeper measure headed for the November 2016 ballot that may pose a real threat to balanced elections and informed policy in Washington state.
Also known as the Washington Government Accountability Act, I-1464 is a near-clone of the Honest Elections Act passed in Seattle last year and is being promoted as a necessary measure to curb the influence of mysterious ‘dark money’ in state politics.
“It’s going to transform how we do elections in Washington state in a way that brings more focus back on the little guy.” That’s what political consultant and I-1464 co-sponsor Alex Hays told KING 5 political reporter Natalie Brand in a recent interview.
In reality, I-1464 appears to be little more than a new way for Democrats to game political campaign financing rules to their favor, neutralize the input of the business community and activist groups in the formation of public policy, and possibly even lay the tracks for taxpayer subsidization of non-citizen non-voter political contributions.
What would I-1464 do?
The surface appeal of I-1464 is obvious. In the words of its sponsors is that it would “restore public trust and confidence by requiring greater transparency and increasing political accountability, limiting the influence of lobbyists, strengthening enforcement of campaign-finance and ethics laws, and empowering small donors to ensure everyone in Washington has a voice.”
The real implications of I-1464 are something quite different than those progressive platitudes. On closer inspection, the measure seems to be little more than a Trojan horse designed to capture the interest of disaffected voters across the political spectrum to enact rules that would provide an almost permanent advantage to interests with a stake in procuring Democratic control over state politics.
No lobbying for you
Many of I-1464’s provisions lay a minefield of “gotcha” rules between informed lobbyists and public officials. The proponents don’t shy away from disclosing their intent; they want to make it harder for to lobbyists to operate. In reality, some of the teeth in I-1464 would come as close to criminalizing lobbying — a constitutionally protected right — as any law has tried to do in recent memory.
Although the lobbying profession is a favorite scapegoat and rare stories of abuse are highly public, the positive role that the lobbying community plays in providing informed testimony and insight on proposed legislation is woefully underreported. Sometimes when an association representing small grocers sits down with the governor, it’s part of an effort to save jobs and keep consumer prices low. In fact, it’s not popular to say it, but much of the time that’s the outcome, if not the objective, of lobbying efforts.
The bad news in I-1464’s anti-lobbyist provisions is compounded because of evidence that the measure also appears to carve out exemptions for unions. It’s hard to see how the public will be more confident in government when the laws and regulations are developed from only the half of the facts that prejudice to he union’s benefit.
Maybe some reform of how lobbying is done would be helpful, but I-1464 is too extreme and would have the unintended consequence of making our public officials less informed.
Spreading the political wealth around
The feature of I-1464 that is likely to get the most attention though is its provision to set up a system for public financing of some political campaigns.
Under the proposal, qualified register voters would be eligible to receive $150 per election cycle in “democracy credits” to be spent on qualified election campaigns. It would require mandatory mailings from the state to registered voters to notify them of available credits. The entire process would be administered by the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.
Although the proposal for using one person’s money to pay for another person’s political speech would initially be restricted to legislative races in even-numbered years, I-1464 explicitly makes provisions to expand the program as early as 2021. The Legislature would have the ability to amend the initiative even sooner than that, as we know from experience.
But most alarming is a portion of the law that appears to require the PDC to develop a program for distributing democracy credits to permanent resident aliens living in Washington state as early as 2019. Read carefully from the text of the Act:
By December 1, 2019, the commission shall develop and adopt regulations to allow any adult natural person who is a bona fide resident of the state, not eligible to register to vote under state law, but eligible under state and federal law to donate to a candidate campaign, to request to be verified by the commission as an eligible individual for participation in the program in the year 2020 and thereafter.
That section appears to be crafted to require the state government to give foreign nationals with permanent residency status (read that as possessing a green card) publicly funded vouchers to make contributions to political campaigns.
Who’s backing I-1464?
Integrity Washington is the campaign committee formed to get I-1464 on the Washington ballot. Who is Integrity Washington? As with most things, that’s a matter of who’s paying the bills.
As of the end of March, Integrity Washington has received $337,402 in cash contributions, according to filings made to the PDC. More than two-thirds of the campaign cash — $225,000 — has come from Every Voice, a next-generation progressive political org born out of a 2014 merger that absorbed a super PAC funded by Jonathan Soros. (Yes, that Soros family.) The next largest contributor to I-1464 so far is Represent Us, at $100,300.
Modeled on ballot-proven Seattle-grade socialism
Every Voice and Represent Us also played big in the passage of Seattle Initiative Measure I-122, the Honest Elections Act passed by voters of Washington’s most populous city in 2015. Represent Us lists I-122 as one of the group’s “wins” on their website.
What did the measure do? In part it required some property owners in Seattle to pay higher taxes to finance “democracy vouchers” for public financing of political campaign contributions.
It will surprise no one that the same city that elected a self-described socialist to its city council also passed I-122 by a 27-point margin.
A total of more than $1.4 million was spent by the proponents of I-122, $390,860.23 of which came from Every Voice.
(Some might suspect that the overkill funding of I-122, a slam dunk measure, was really an early investment in the statewide effort to be named later, now known as I-1464.)
Although the evolution from I-122 to I-1464 has shuffled the cast of characters — I-1464 co-sponsor Alex Hays is a political consultant with a large number of Republican legislators on his past and current client list — Every Voice and its funders are calling the tune.
(As of this posting, Hays’ picture and bio are still featured on the Integrity Washington website. Click image to right to view a screen capture.)
In order for Washington voters to weigh in on the proposal, Integrity Washington will need to collect enough signatures to put it on the ballot — just a few thousand less than 250,000. In mid-February, only weeks before a half dozen Bernie Sanders rallies occurred in Washington, a $100,000 deposit was paid to a California-based signature gathering firm. Petitions have already been sighted in Seattle.