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Ethics and elections commissioners in Seattle are considering a bill that would limit foreign influence on municipal elections.

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.

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"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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