Washington voters rejected Initiative 1464 and its sweeping reform of campaign finance rules on Nov. 8. The outcome was understandable.
I-1464 called for an experimental system of partial-public financing of legislative campaigns. With a cost in the millions of dollars, it would have taken effect just as the state is trying to fully pay for public schools.
The measure also, in some respects, was ahead of its time. Seattle is only just launching a first-in-the-nation system of public-financed campaigns that gives voters “democracy credits” or “vouchers” to spend on local candidates who agree to limit their fundraising.
Seattle’s pioneering move can help show whether this approach actually leads to more public participation and more debate of issues, which I-1464 promised. (As we noted in our endorsement of I-1464, we would have preferred a state pilot that dealt with state judicial campaigns.)
I-1464 had many other elements that deserve continued consideration by the Legislature in January 2017. One is to enact a cooling-off period for legislators, other state officials and employees who want to lobby their former colleagues after leaving government.
Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson have sought such a cooling-off period to ensure integrity and restore trust in government. I-1464 called for a three-year break in service, which would be the longest in the country. Whether that would be the right length of time needs to be debated.
Another element of I-1464 would have increased the penalty authority of the state Public Disclosure Commission, which registers lobbyists and candidate campaigns, collects finance data, and enforces state campaign laws.
The PDC can impose penalties of up to $10,000 for serious cases with multiple infractions, and it can ask the attorney general to investigate and file suit in the case of major violations. I-1464 would have allowed the PDC even greater fining authority and let the agency keep half of fines it collects to use for enforcement activities.
I-1464 also sought to make it harder to conceal the source of money for independent campaign expenditures. Political action committees often get around disclosure rules by creating multiple PACs with innocuous names that can forward contributions on to the next PAC. That way television ads and brochures can list only the PAC supplying the money and not the actual top five donors.
Things are confusing enough for voters. In an era of fake news and shell PACs, it makes sense to require the names of top donors on all political advertising.