Coordinating Contributions

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This Seattle Times article explains controversy around a series of donations made by firefighters unions that may have been coordinated to skirt contributions limits. Of particular interest are contributions to a Seattle City Council member, Tim Burgess who used to sit on the city ethics commission.

The timing of donations from the various unions around the state to candidates outside their districts raised red flags:


In September, the South King County firefighters union, Local 2024, donated $700, the maximum donation allowed, to the campaign of Burgess, whom the Seattle firefighters union had endorsed. Two days later, the political-action committee for Seattle Fire Fighters Local 27 contributed $700 to the union for the South King County Fire Department to support a levy campaign. The contribution limit in Seattle is $700 per donor.

The Seattle union also contributed $700 to a Spokane mayoral candidate, after which the Spokane firefighters union gave $700 to Burgess' campaign. The same pattern occurred in a Puyallup City Council race after a $200 donation from the Seattle union to a Puyallup candidate. Kenny Stuart, vice president of the Seattle firefighters union, said many unions in the state have been working on expanding their political influence beyond their city borders, and the donations reflect that.

This kind of coordination is difficult, if not impossible to prove but further adds to the backdrop against which the Seattle City Council may soon be considering a full public financing option for their elections. Now that Washington's Governor has signed a bill into law lifting the decade-plus ban on public financing of elections for municipalities, there has already been discussion about exploring a Clean Elections-style system for Seattle.

As a transplanted Washingtonian I'd love to see Seattle get Clean Elections, though it'll mean yet another opportunity for Seattle to get confused with Portland, Oregon, which is going into its second cycle of publicly financed municipal races.