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Seattle’s requirements for reporting city campaign donations are to die for. But do they produce cheaper elections? No

November 3rd, 2014 · 5 Comments

I got to go to Seattle once to write about the way they monitor and regulate campaign financing for their municipal elections. It brought tears to my eyes and will to all you poli nerds out there. Here’s a link to their elections site, where you can click on any of their ward-type races, the mayoral race, or any ballot measure and see who contributed what. It looks to me like contributions are reported on a more than once-a-week basis, to judge from the reports just from the last week.

So Seattle voters going into an election know exactly who contributed to a candidate’s campaign, and especially who contributed right up to the last few days. The city also has a $700 donation limit and no party system.

One surprising thing. It doesn’t seem to make elections any cheaper. I looked at last year, when citizens elected a mayor and a group of councillors, and at 2011, when the other set of council candidates ran for election.

Between the two years, and subtracting the money spent by people campaign for district attorney and a ballot measure, the various campaigns spent $5.1 million among them. That’s about the same as the two major parties spent here (Vision, $2.2 million in the centralized fundraising system they have; NPA, $2.8 million, counting both the party and candidates).

I remember people writing about how Vancouver spent X times as much per vote as Barack Obama did to get elected. But, seems to me, Barack got to work with economies of scale and the advantage of clearly identified parties that voters have figured out by election day.

Cities are like boutique operations, where campaigners have to spend a lot more to win their elections where only 150,000 to 200,000 people vote, at most. (Seattle, with almost the same population as Vancouver, gets out about 200,000 for its elections, around 50 per cent turnout. Vancouver gets around 150,000, 34 per cent.)

And funny how the $700 cap on donations doesn’t seem to reduce the amount of raising and spending. I await the explanations from my worthy audience here.


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