WA: Evergreen State Aims for Clean Elections

Washington State legislators are doing a one-two-three punch to get big money out of election campaigns.  House Bill 1360, Senate Bill 5278  and Senate Bill 5226 were introduced in January to adopt public financing for campaigns. 

The three bills introduced in Washington each have a different focus. 

  • HB 1360 looks to adopt public financing for all state office campaigns.  Under the bill, a Citizens Public Campaign fund would be created in the state treasury to fund candidates. 
  • SB 5278 would eliminate the ban on local jurisdictions establishing public financing programs for local races, allowing local Washington State jurisdictions to follow the trend of cities like Albuquerque, New Mexico and Portland, Oregon that have passed public financing for local races.
  • SB 5526, also known as the Judicial Independence Act, is a voluntary campaign public funding system for appellate judicial positions, including Supreme Court seats and Court of Appeals seats, following the model of North Carolina which adopted clean elections for judicial positions in 2002. 

If the bills pass, Washington would join other clean election states:

  • Arizona and Maine have clean elections for all campaigns. 
  • North Carolina has clean elections for judicial campaigns.
  • New Mexico has clean elections for the Public Regulatory Commission. 
  • New Jersey ran a pilot program in 2005 that must be reauthorized to expand in 2007.   
  • Connecticut's clean election law will come into effect in the 2008 elections.

How It Works:  The way clean elections works is simple: candidates collect a set number of small contributions, usually $5, from people in their district, which qualifies them for public funds to run the rest of their campaign with the amount allotted for campaigns depends on the office sought.   Clean elections candidates won a total of 205 state offices in Arizona (where the governor ran and won on clean elections), Maine and North Carolina in the 2006 election.

With clean elections in 2004, Wanda Bryant became the first African American judge to win election as an Appeal Court judge in North Carolina.  This was followed up in 2006 by Patricia Timmons-Goodson making history as the first African American woman to be elected to the North Carolina Supreme Court.  Judge Bryant states that public financing is a "huge step in enabling more people like myself to run and to feel like you're not going to lose based on not having the money."

The North Carolina program has succeeded in decreasing attorney contributions (the number one special interest contribution to judicial elections) from 40 percent to only 11 percent of total funds.  Four out of the five winning judges were clean election participants both in 2004 and in 2006. 

North Carolina's success with clean elections is not a one-time deal.  Arizona and Maine have had great success with their clean election programs.  In Arizona, 90 legislators, the governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, superintendent of public instruction, mine inspector and 2 corporation commissioners were all elected as clean election participants.  In Maine, 84 percent of election winners were clean election candidates. 

Clean elections is not only good ethics, but it's a winning issue for candidates.  Voters want clean elections and they will vote for candidates who participate in the program.  Clean elections allows candidates to shift their priorities from fund raising to actually meeting and listening to their constituents.  Because there is a requirement of a certain number of small donors, clean elections give people who can not afford large contributions a voice.    Advocates hope that Washington State legislators will recognize these advantages and enact clean elections this year.


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