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."
News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.
Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.
RepresentUs acquired 8,000 signatures on a petition asking Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to keep working on a "revolving door" bill. Paula Barkan, Austin chapter leader of RepresentUs, handed the petition to Brandon Simon, Cruz's Central Texas regional director, on July 31.
Remember that tweet exchange in May between Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the one where they discussed bipartisan legislation to ban former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists?
To recap: Ocasio-Cortez tweeted her support for legislation banning the practice in light of a report by the watchdog group Public Citizen, which found that nearly 60 percent of lawmakers who recently left Congress had found jobs with lobbying firms. Cruz tweeted back, extending an invitation to work on such a bill. Ocasio-Cortez responded, "Let's make a deal."
The news cycle being what it is, it's easy to forget how the media jumped on the idea of the Texas Republican and the New York Democrat finding common ground on a government ethics proposal. Since then, we've collectively moved on — but not everyone forgot.
The government reform group RepresentUs recently drafted a petition asking Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez to follow through on their idea, gathering more than 8,000 signatures.
Sixty percent of young adults in the United States believe other people "can't be trusted," according to a recent Pew Research survey, which found that younger Americans were far more likely than older adults to distrust both institutions and other people. But adults of all ages did agree on one thing: They all lack confidence in elected leaders.
While united in a lack of confidence, the cohorts disagreed on whether that's a major problem. The study found that young adults (ages 18-29) were less likely than older Americans to believe that poor confidence in the federal government, the inability of Democrats and Republicans to work together, and the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups were "very big problems."