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Washington House Considers State Campaign Finance Reform Bill

An aerial view of the Washington State Capitol Campus in Olympia
WSDOT
/
Flickr
An aerial view of the Washington State Capitol Campus in Olympia

A bill that’s making its way through the Washington state House of Representatives would make campaign contributions more transparent. It passed the state Senate last month.

The bill is still being debated. According to the version in the House right now, nonprofits and other similar organization that spend $25,000 or more to advocate for or against ballot measures and candidates will have to disclose the names of donors that give more than $10,000.

It’s sponsored by state Senator Andy Billig, a Democrat from Spokane.

“This bill is quite a moderate approach,” he said. “It doesn’t say that a non-profit can’t spend money on elections. It just says ‘if you do, disclose your donors.’ It doesn’t even say you have to disclose all your donors. It just says ‘let’s see who the big money behind the donations are.’”

A version of the bill failed last year, defeated by the Republican majority in Washington’s state Senate. But this year, Democrats control the Senate and passed it last month.

During a public hearing Wednesday, supporters told the committee the bill closes loopholes and has bipartisan support. They also said it would boost confidence in the state’s election process.

But opponents are concerned it could hinder free speech.

“This bill would impact small local associations,” said Mark Johnson, vice president of government affairs for the Washington Retail Association. “This bill will have the unintended consequence of encouraging the opportunity to file more complaints against more organizations. If the goal is to improve campaign finance laws, one way might be to streamline the laws that exist now and better fund the [Public Disclosure Commission].”

In his testimony, Johnson called for stricter enforcement of existing campaign finance laws in Washington.

Copyright 2018 Northwest News Network

Emily Schwing
Emily Schwing comes to the Inland Northwest by way of Alaska, where she covered social and environmental issues with an Arctic spin as well as natural resource development, wildlife management and Alaska Native issues for nearly a decade. Her work has been heard on National Public Radio’s programs like “Morning Edition” and “All things Considered.” She has also filed for Public Radio International’s “The World,” American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” and various programs produced by the BBC and the CBC. She has also filed stories for Scientific American, Al Jazeera America and Arctic Deeply.