Politics / News
Campaign Finance Reform Rejected by Seattle City Council
by Ansel Herz
on Mon, Jun 30, 2014 at 4:03 PM
MIKE O'BRIEN "Delivered one of the most brilliant speeches ever," says Sally Bagshaw.
I told you earlier today about Council Member Mike O'Brien's move to merely introduce—not pass—a piece of campaign finance reform legislation. Well, the vote on whether the legislation would be placed on the council calendar just happened down at City Hall and it was straight-up maddening: 4-4, with Council Members Tim Burgess, Tom Rasmussen, Jean Godden, and Bruce Harrell opposed while O'Brien, Kshama Sawant, Nick Licata, and Sally Bagshaw voted in favor. (Sally Clark was previously scheduled to be absent today.)
Without a majority, a motion fails.
O'Brien said this was the first time in his four and a half years on the City Council this had happened. Instead of legislation being introduced, moved through committee, modified, and then voted upon, this bill was being blocked from consideration entirely. "Unfortunately," O'Brien said, "for the first time that I’m aware of...a piece of legislation has been refused for the referral calendar. This vote is about process—about the opportunity for a bill to be heard in a community."
Licata, Bagshaw and Sawant echoed O'Brien. "Every day I see the rich and powerful...walk around city hall and talk to the politicians they have funded," Sawant added. She called public financing a "great step forward."
"From the beginning this year, it's been clear I was not going to advance this legislation," Burgess responded flatly. He admitted the proposal represents "sound, progressive policy." But, he said, adding a fifth tax measure to the fall ballot, "in my opinion, is too great a risk."
Rasmussen took exception to Sawant's remark about the rich and powerful, Godden said this isn't the right time of this measure, and Harrell said nothing. Burgess swiftly shot down attempts by O'Brien and Sawant to get in a last word, and then the vote happened.
It was an infuriating experience for folks like Alison Eisinger, who works on homelessness issues and was at City Hall for the vote, but was unable to speak to the council. (Most of the public comment period was taken up by people freaked about Seattle City Light's smart meter roll out, and Burgess refused to extend time for a crowd of campaign finance reform advocates to have their say.) "I am gravely disappointed," Eisinger tells me. "[Today] could set a deeply damaging precedent in terms of the nature of debate in our city council. It has a chilling effect on debate."
All nine city council members voted last year to support the same measure, she points out. At least four of them say now is not the right time, which, for Eisinger, begs the question: "Will they commit to honoring fair elections proposals voluntarily in their 2015 campaigns?" In the last election, Burgess did not and O'Brien did—he refused to raise big money until he'd received $10 donations from at least 1,000 different people.
UPDATE 4:45 p.m.: In a statement, O'Brien says: "Today I stood up for publicly financed elections in Seattle and was proud to be joined by Councilmembers Bagshaw, Licata and Sawant.Our colleagues said this wasn’t the year to do it, but this is exactly the type of conversation we should have had in Committee, in public and with engagement from the community—not in a shortened discussion over some obscure parliamentary procedure. But my hand was forced by Council President Burgess and his refusal to introduce the bill. I am deeply disappointed in Councilmembers Burgess, Rasmussen, Harrell and Godden who voted against a public financing bill this year that they all allege to support in theory."