Last January, the Seattle City Council asked for a proposal to provide public funds to help candidates pay the cost of mounting a campaign for public office. Next Monday the council will “take its first look” at the proposal. In 2008 then King Council Member Bob Ferguson (newly elected Washington Attorney General) with the support of fellow council member Dow Constantine (now King County Executive) and former council member Lois North, made a similar effort for King County. The added cost and the economy combined to delay consideration indefinitely.
Like a Phoenix of bad ideas, the specter of public financing of candidates refuses to die. With government crying for more and more money for education, roads, transit, healthcare etc., who in their right mind believes voters want to be forced to contribute to political campaigns so more marginal candidates can be encouraged to seek public office.
Instead of tossing taxpayer dollars into candidate welfare, for substantially less cost insure a voter’s pamphlet is mailed to each voting household. Even less expensive, provide a web site where each of the candidates for a particular office can provide answers to the same set of questions. Allow updates so it is current. The Seattle Times could provide a written version. On the web site, require candidates to publish the names and occupation of all contributors over $500. In the case of PACs, require the names and occupations of the top contributors to the PAC. Any or all of these suggestions would do more to inform the voters and address the concerns about money in campaigns than the proposed public campaign funding. Yes, raising property taxes “about $6 for the owner of a $400,000 home” to pay for the proposed program doesn’t seem like much until you add it to all the other “doesn’t seem like much” taxes.
Once we have solved all the other problems and budget shortfalls of the city, the council can look at public funding of political campaigns. But for now, shove this idea in a pigeon hole where it will never see the light of day.