Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: campaign finance


It’s official: PDC was wrong, Washam recallers were right

Lost in the din on election day was a sweet little moral victory for the people who tried to recall Dale Washam last year.

One of the many mini-dramas in the recall attempt was the way the Public Disclosure Commission stomped on the signature-gathering campaign before it even got started.

Robin Farris, who led the effort to unseat Pierce County’s flamboyantly incompetent assessor-treasurer, had been getting pro bono legal assistance from two public-spirited Tacoma attorneys, Tom Oldfield and Jeff Helsdon. They helped her negotiate the recall petition through a legal obstacle course that finally ended with its approval by the Washington Supreme Court.

In the process, the PDC decided that Farris had violated the state’s campaign finance laws – which then capped individual contributions to candidates at $800 – by accepting an estimated $20,000 worth of donated help from Oldman and Helsdon. The commission insisted on equating a recall effort to a candidate’s election campaign, and it continued to do so; as a result, Farris’ efforts were hobbled financially for months.

Finally, a libertarian outfit based in Virginia, the Institute for Justice, fought the PDC on behalf of Farris’ campaign and won an injunction that let her raise more money. The PDC challenged the ruling and the case bounced around the federal judiciary.
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At least tell us who’s behind those big-money hits

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

The first election campaign in the post-Citizens United era is nearing an end, and it won’t be quickly enough for most Americans.

They’ve been bombarded by billions of dollars worth of TV ads, most of them negative. That’s especially true in critical swing states. At least Washington residents can thank the fact that this state’s electoral votes for president are all but sewn up, sparing us the national ad onslaught plaguing battleground states like Ohio, Florida and Colorado.

Still, plenty of outside money – from the so-called super PACs, interest groups, unions, corporate donors and wealthy individuals – has poured into Washington to buy ads trying to influence statewide and congresssional races. How to tell which ones they are? Generally the tipoff is that they don’t end with a candidate saying, “I’m so-and-so, and I approved this message.”
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Campaign rules there for a reason, so obey them

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Should supervisors in government agencies not so subtly suggest how workers should vote if they want to keep their jobs?

Should churches collect donations for a political cause that aligns with their beliefs and send them to the campaign?

The first scenario seems like a no-brainer. Of course bosses shouldn’t apply political pressure in the workplace – especially in government offices. In fact, the Hatch Act expressly prohibits certain government employees from partisan politicking at work.
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Campaign accounts not meant to be slush funds

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

There’s a big gray area in state campaign finance policy that could use more black and white.

That gray area lurks in the little-scrutinized surplus accounts – where excess money donated to lawmakers’ campaigns sits until the next election. Some lawmakers return the money to donors, give it to their party to spend on other candidates or donate it to charity.

But they can also use money in those accounts for what state law calls “public office-related expenses.” And apparently that’s a matter of fairly loose interpretation.
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Citizens United bodes ill for Washington’s judicial races

This editorial appears in Wednesday’s print edition.

Washingtonians beware. The incentives to buy justice with campaign dollars are so great that it’s only a matter of time before the new super PACs come shopping for Supreme Court seats in Olympia.

The Washington Post reported last week that jurists in some states are preparing to defend themselves against unprecedented barrages of media attacks funded with unprecedented war chests. The stage was set in 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which eradicated long-standing restrictions on campaign contributions from corporations and unions.

The decision provided for no firewalls between political and judicial elections. In states that insist on using popularity contests to pick their judges, the threat to an impartial judiciary is obvious. Read more »


This state’s open elections dodge another bullet

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

It’s settled: The crypto-political action groups that package their ads as “issue advocacy” in this state will still have to disclose their donors and donations.

Human Life of Washington fought that requirement all through the judiciary; it lost for good last week when the Supreme Court rejected its appeal of a prior loss in the Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals.

The case was a little peculiar from the start.
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Federal court ruling on donors hurts early voters

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is the case that keeps on giving – if you are a deep-pocketed donor looking to swing an election.

Citizens United was the January decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down crucial federal limits on corporate campaign spending. In part, it overturned a key provision of the McCain-Feingold ban on corporate and union “issue ads” in the days immediately preceding an election.

Now the ruling has reached its tentacles to Washington to strangle a similar state provision aimed at limiting the ability of big money to evade accountability for late hits.

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Let the public follow the political money trail

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

We’d gladly trade any number of rules that try to micromanage campaign donations and spending in exchange for one thing: disclosure.

Full disclosure. That means telling the citizens exactly who is paying to buy the ads, mount the attacks and swing the election.

It means not merely naming political committees – which may be front organizations – but also naming the individuals who gave to those committees. It means doing this in real time, as the money shows up in campaign coffers, not letting political operatives keep voters in the dark until after the votes are counted.

Democracy presupposes an informed electorate, and the Internet can now make the electorate more informed than ever. That’s why the aggressive disclosure provisions in a new bill introduced last week by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., ought to be enacted in time for the 2010 election season.

The bill is part of a Democratic attempt to curb the effects of a January U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down longstanding limits on corporate campaign spending. Democrats fear that titans of industry will now pour fortunes into Republican candidacies; Schumer says that some CEOs won’t want the public and shareholders to see what would otherwise have been covert political operations.
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