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Seattle City Council Considers Fundraising 'Blackouts'

Amy Radil

The Seattle City Council is considering legislation to curb fundraising by its own members. Backers say these measures would help restore public trust in politics. Opponents say the law is a solution in search of a problem. KUOW's Amy Radil reports.


The bill before the Seattle City Council would only allow councilmembers to raise money in the last year of their terms. The law would also restrict the practice of rolling over unspent money for future campaigns. Officials would have to give the money back, or donate it to charity, the city or political parties.

Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien says the legislation is meant to counter the rising amount of money city councilmembers are rolling over, compared to a decade ago.

While there's a lot of conjecture about how the legislation would affect incumbents versus challengers, O'Brien says he's more focused on enhancing public trust in politics.

O'Brien: "And I think one thing we can do to signal to the public and demonstrate to the public that their trust is important and say, 'Look, we're not going to roll over this money and we're not going to do any fundraising for the first three years. We're just here working for you.'"

O'Brien says his interest in this legislation came partly from his experience as a first–time candidate in 2009, when he found that raising money was the only way to be taken seriously.

O'Brien: "But I think more importantly, this started for me a lot with the Occupy movement last fall."

O'Brien says he pledged to address a number of concerns of the Occupy movement, like income inequality and trust in government, and this legislation grew out of that.

But Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen is not convinced.

Rasmussen: "Citing Occupy Wall Street as a need for this legislation is I think rather weak, to say the least. I don't think there's a need for this legislation."

Rasmussen rolled over the most money of any city council candidate after the last election. He has $144,000 ready if he decides to run in 2015.

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission has endorsed O'Brien's legislation. The agency says in 2011 there were fewer candidates for City Council seats than any race since 1995.

But the Municipal League of King County says the proposal is wrong–headed. It says the legislation could actually make incumbents more focused on big contributors, and could be grounds for a lawsuit. A City Council committee is expected to vote on the proposal in two weeks.

I'm Amy Radil, KUOW News.

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