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Council may cap campaign contributions for Federal Way candidates

Beginning next year, candidates running for Federal Way political offices may face limitations on campaign contributions they are allowed to collect from any single source.

On Tuesday, the city council discussed measures to regulate contributions to local candidates' campaigns. Presently, Federal Way candidates campaigning for local office, such as city council member or elected mayor, can rake in as much money as they want from as many sources as they want. The same applies to all cities that have not passed an ordinance setting a single-source contribution cap. Under the council's direction, Federal Way staff is drafting an ordinance that limits single-source contributions to $800 per election. However, the ordinance is not as strict as at least one council member prefers.

Looking to neighbors:

The ordinance will likely mirror county law and could resemble Senate Bill 6344. A candidate for King County office cannot accept, from a single source, campaign contributions exceeding $800 per election, according to the King County Elections office. If passed, Senate Bill 6344, which is making its way through the Senate now, will apply the same monetary standards to all Washington state candidates for local positions. Candidates are still required to report their contributions.

Public Disclosure

Local candidates for office must report their campaign contributions to the state's Public Disclosure Commission. If candidates expect to raise or spend more than $5,000, or if they expect to receive more than $500 from one source, they must participate in full reporting. If candidates expect to raise less than $5,000 and receive less than $500 per source, excluding themselves, they must participate in mini-reporting. The PDC publishes candidates' campaign contributions online at www.pdc.wa.gov.

City council member Jeanne Burbidge said the PDC does not do an adequate job of making sure candidates abide by the rules.

"It's come to my attention that the PDC often does not follow up on failure to file or failure to make complete reports," she said.

On Tuesday, Burbidge cited a need for clear and transparent government in her argument for more stringent rules overseeing local campaigns. She voiced worries about public officials' abilities to remain objective and resist the political pressure that can accompany substantial campaign donations. Burbidge suggested the council require candidates to report their contributions, not only to the PDC, but to a local board or commission.

Differing perspectives

Several council members said they see no need to take such detailed regulatory measures. The PDC does a fair and accurate job of keeping tabs on campaign contributions, they said. Tasking a board or commission with also tracking campaign contributions would cost money during an economically rough time, they said.

"I don't want, personally, to get into micromanaging campaigns," city council member Jack Dovey said.

Abiding by the PDC's regulations is tenuous, deputy mayor Dini Duclos said. Requiring candidates to declare contributions to more than one entity could be burdensome, she said.

"It might stop people from actually running for office if they have all these hoops to jump through," Duclos said.

Holding out hope

Federal Way resident Martin Moore said he's satisfied with the contribution cap the council is considering, but more must be done to restore the public's trust in its elected officials. Moore has spoken at council meetings several times regarding campaign contributions. He's also met with council members to discuss his viewpoint.

Moore favors citizen involvement in regulating Federal Way's campaigns. An elections commission is needed, he said. It would give citizens the opportunity to make sure candidates are staying accountable to the ordinance the council is considering, Moore said.

"There are citizens in Federal Way that need to regain their trust and confidence back in the electoral process," he said.

Stay tuned

The city council is expected to hear the first reading of the ordinance at its regularly scheduled meeting 7 p.m. March 2 at City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S. If the ordinance is passed, it will not be applied until the next election cycle, as this election cycle has already begun, city attorney Pat Richardson said.

Candidates for the city's November mayoral election will not be subject to campaign contribution limits currently under consideration by the city council. This is due to the fact that this year's election cycle has already started.

The filing period for the mayoral election is June 7-11. All campaign contributions donated to candidates for that race must be declared with the PDC. As yet, city council member Jim Ferrell is the only candidate who has publicly declared his intent to file for mayor. As of Feb. 3, the PDC lists Ferrell as having no contributions or expenditures.

Learn more

To learn more about contributions to and expenditures of local, county and state candidates, visit the Public Disclosure Commission's Web site at www.pdc.wa.gov

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