The 2010 U. S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that contributions to and expenditures by independent political action committees cannot be limited, has arrived — big time — in Seattle.
IN the 2016 presidential campaign so far, 158 families have contributed $186 million — almost half of all the money contributed.
In the single election contest this year for Washington state House of Representatives in South King County, independent political action committees (PACs) spent more than $1.2 million — total spending in the campaign was $90 per voter. What attracts the obscene amounts of money in such swing districts is control of the closely divided state House and Senate.
And in 2015 Seattle City Council elections, $790,210 was spent by independent PACs. This compares to zero dollars four years ago. The 2010 U. S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that contributions to and expenditures by independent political action committees cannot be limited, has arrived — big time — in Seattle.
• Most of the independent PAC money — $451,000 — supported 2 candidates: Tim Burgess (at large) and Shannon Braddock (District 1).
• By far the largest expenditures — $339,000 — came from one PAC: CASE, or the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, which is sponsored by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. The Hospitality PAC spent $100,000. Independent labor-union PACs, mostly representing city employees, contributed $83,000 to independent committees and contributed an additional $51,000 directly to candidates.
• Independent committees could be quite creative in what they chose to call themselves. Donors to the “Neighbors for Shannon” committee consisted of the Chamber of Commerce PAC, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association PAC, the Hospitality PAC and the Seattle Firefighters PAC. So PACs give to other PACs and call themselves “neighbors.”
• In Seattle, the limit for direct contributions to candidates was $700 in 2015. The various organizations that formed independent PACs contributed $70,097 directly to candidates under that rule, but they spent an additional $790,210 through independent committees — an 11-fold increase.
• Individuals (including their family members) and corporations (including their management and government-relations staff) are where most of this money starts. In 2015, the Vulcan Corporation (Paul Allen’s company), its senior management (vice-presidents and above) and government-relations staff topped the list of contributors at $102,550, including $21,550 in direct contributions to candidates, $40,500 to independent PACs and $40,500 to city ballot issues. The top six sources of funds were Vulcan, R.C. Hedreen Co. ($66,300), Amazon.com ($54,800), the Sabey Corp. ($33,950), Wright Runstad & Co. ($22,950) and Microsoft ($22,900).
• It is notable that Vulcan, Hedreen, Sabey, Wright Runstad and Microsoft all contributed to the “no” campaign against public funding — Initiative 122. Why does Microsoft care about public funding in Seattle?
At Gettysburg in 1863, Abraham Lincoln described our legacy of representative democracy. “We here highly resolve … that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
That legacy is at risk. If we don’t do something about it, who will?
Some very vital things are being done right now:
• Three weeks ago, 62 percent of Seattle voters said “yes” to the restoration of public funding of Seattle campaigns. Public funding will permit a candidate to fund a viable campaign without having to rely on big contributors and special interests for campaign dollars. However, because of Citizens United, we cannot prohibit independent PACs from spending as much as they want regardless of public funding.
• In the 2016 election, when we are electing a new president, every voter in Washington can have the chance to say to our congressional representatives, “Enough! Enough billionaire, corporate and other special interest-money dominating our elections. We want a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.”
That vote will happen only if Initiative 735, which calls for such an amendment, gets on the state ballot. If it is on the ballot, initiatives passed in Montana and Colorado demonstrated that it will pass by a supermajority of Republican and Democratic voters.
Right now, citizens are in the streets gathering signatures for I-735. To date, 220,000 have been collected, but 95,000 more are needed before the deadline at the end of December.
Look for signature gatherers and sign. Better yet, collect signatures yourself from family members, neighbors and friends. The I-735 website at WAmend.org tells you everything you need to know.