Indivisible-WA Public Disclosure Commission-F
Intel on Municipal Elections
By the early 1970s people had grown wary of the influence of money in politics and governance. The Washington State legislature, not too surprisingly, was unresponsive to pleas to enact campaign finance limits and expose political contributions to the sunshine of public disclosure. In 1972 concerned citizens formed a group now known as the Washington Coalition for Open Government, gathered signatures, and put Initiative 276 on the ballot. It passed with 72% of the vote, establishing the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) and exposing the finances of Washington State political campaigns to public scrutiny.
Washington State’s PDC preceded the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) by two years. The FEC serves much the same function at the federal level as the WA PDC does in Washington State. Note that campaign finance information on Cathy McMorris Rodgers and other U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators is found on the FEC website, not the PDC. (I did not find clear information on what other states have commissions similar to the PDC. I urge my readers, especially those living in other states, to see what they can find out. State level information is a bit harder to dig up than information on national material.)
I’m embarrassed to admit that although I have used the information available from both the PDC and the FEC in my writing, I was unaware of the relatively recent history (50 years) of such election watchdog commissions until now. Like the Voting Rights Act (1965), the Civil Rights Acts (1960, 1964, 1968), campaign finance reform and disclosure has always been for me a sort of assumed background to how self-governance by the people was expected to work—not perfect, but a common base on which to build. I think that’s why the Republican Party’s collusion with Trump to falsely claim election fraud, re-establish Jim Crow-like anti-democratic voting laws, and conceal Trump’s finances feels like such an assault on the foundation of what I believe—and what I have naively taken for granted as the way things always were.
We risk losing that which we take for granted. The Washington Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) and the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) exist to regulate and shine light on campaign finance—but neither does any good if the information they provide is rarely accessed.
Judd Legum in his newsletter Popular Information has been using publicly available records from the FEC and state election commissions to expose the hypocrisy of corporations that issue statements of support for voting rights and then donate money to state and federal legislators who are enacting law that restrict voting. I recommend subscribing to his newsletter.
My point? On the very local scale in Washington State becoming familiar with Public Disclosure Commission’s website is a worthwhile skill. Start today as a small illustration. In August and November of this year there are municipal elections all over Washington State. One way to get started understanding who plans to run is to research who has filed a campaign financial report with the PDC.
Go to pdc.wa.gov. Scroll down and click on the link in “Explore all campaigns.” On the Campaign Explorer page be sure to set the election year to 2021. Scroll down to “Municipal,” click the triangle, then click City of Spokane, and then City Council Member, City of Spokane.
Voila! What you see are all those candidates who have started raising money to run for the three seats up for contention (Districts 1,2,&3) this year. “Candidate filing week” (which you can see by visiting the Spokane County website, since election administration is a county, not a city function) isn’t until M-F May 17-21. Clearly, someone could file at the last minute with a boatload of personal money, but most candidates have to start raising money ahead of time, and will, therefore, file with the PDC earlier.
For reference, City of Spokane municipal District 1 is northeast Spokane, including Hillyard, District 2 is the South Hill and west out toward the airport, and District 3 is northwest. Here’s a good map of the districts. You can pinpoint your residence on that map or you can determine your district by checking with Myvote.wa.gov, and checking under the My Elected Officials button, then scroll to “Other - CITY OF SPOKANE.” That will also tell you who the incumbent is in your district in Position 2. (the Position 1 seats are up for election next in 2023.) The Position 2 seats in NE and NW Spokane (Districts 1 & 3) are open seats this year. There will be a scramble.
Orient yourself in the local scene. (Wherever you live you are likely to be able to politically orient yourself by methods similar to these.) Learn now what you can about who is running, instead of being surprised (like I used to be) when a primary ballot appears in your mailbox in August. If a particular candidate looks really good to you, consider following their campaign and donating early. Funds available now get put to good use.
While you’re at the PDC website, click around and find out what’s there. I do not find the either the PDC or FEC website very user friendly (the Search function, for example, I don’t find very helpful), but there is a trove of information for those who learn their way around.
More on municipal elections in the coming weeks.
Keep to the high ground,