Tighter campaign finance curbs start moving in Seattle
Having successfully implemented the nation's first voucher-based system for public funding of campaigns, Seattle is looking at another way to limit big money's influence on local elections.
The city's ethics and elections commission started considering legislation Tuesday that would prohibit corporations owned or operated to a significant degree by foreign entities from spending to influence municipal elections. The bill would also significantly limit how much in "independent expenditures" any business interest could direct toward local races — effectively doing away with super PACs in Seattle.
The proposal comes at a time when Congress is not paying any attention to regulating campaign finance nationwide, creating an opening for state and local governments to fill some of the void.
St. Petersburg, Fla., enacted legislation similar to the Seattle bill in 2017, the first city to do so. The Massachusetts Legislature is also considering a bill to limit foreign influence and super PACs in state contests.
Democratic council member Lorena González proposed the Seattle legislation with support from local and national democracy reform advocates including the Seattle League of Women Voters, Fix Democracy First and Free Speech for People. Ellen Weintraub, chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission, told the city council she thinks the bill's a great idea.
"Voters deserve to know who is influencing our local elections through independent expenditures and public ads," González said. "My proposed legislation would send a clear message to those who seek to buy our democracy that our local democratic process is not for sale to the highest bidder."
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California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Tuesday three democracy reform bills focused on local redistricting, voting access and campaign contributions.
The first piece of legislation prohibits partisan gerrymandering at the local level by establishing criteria for cities and counties to use when adjusting district boundaries. While California is the largest state to use an independent redistricting commission to draw its congressional and state district maps, local districts did not have the same regulations.
More than 22,000 Virginians with felony convictions have regained the right to vote thanks to executive actions taken by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam since he took office in January 2018, his office announced this week.
In a statement, Northam's office said he has so far restored the civil rights of 22,205 people who had been convicted of felonies and have since completed their sentences. Those civil rights include the right to vote as well as the right to serve on juries, run for public office and become a notary public.
Northam previously announced in February that nearly 11,000 convicted felons had their voting rights restored under his watch.