Seattle City Council members announced today a timeline to develop a publicly financed elections program for local campaigns in the city of Seattle. The plan proposes development of a proposal over 2009 and early 2010 with a possible ballot measure placed before voters in 2010. If voters approve a measure, candidates could participate in a program as early as the 2011 election cycle.
Public financing, sometimes called "voter-owned" elections, allows a candidate to qualify for public funds to run an electoral campaign if he or she is able to demonstrate a broad base of community support.
Candidate participation would be optional. Participants would agree to standards such as limits on private fundraising, a limit on using personal funds, or limits on third-party funding assistance. Programs currently operate in many cities, including Portland, San Francisco, and Albuquerque, NM.
Councilmember Sally J. Clark, chair of the committee that will develop the proposal, said, "I'm looking forward to creating a program that helps a diverse cross-section of Seattle residents to run for local office. Plenty of smart, qualified people would love to run, but the price tag has run so high in recent cycles that otherwise great leaders sit out. Money shouldn't determine who runs and serves."
In 1992, Washington voters adopted Initiative 134, which killed Seattle's former voter-owned elections system. The Washington State Legislature adopted legislation in 2008 which allows municipalities to create their own public financing programs, subject to voter approval.
In early 2008, the City Council and Mayor convened a Campaign Public Financing Advisory Committee (CPFAC) to review financing models in other jurisdictions and make recommendations. The group issued a final report in June, 2008, and the proposed timeline and program planning will work from the CPFAC's findings.
Through 2009 and early 2010, Council will conduct public outreach, review voter-owned elections models in other jurisdictions, determine potential costs and financing plans, and develop a final proposal for voters to consider.
"It will create a more level playing field, attract new candidates, and build public confidence in the political process," said Councilmember Tim Burgess. "I know from my own personal experience that 'dialing for dollars' is a distraction from the work I should be doing as a public official. It's time we step up and introduce strong reforms."