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2012 Election Reforms
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Seattle Ethics & Elections Commission

Public Financing of Campaigns

Review Schedule

All meetings will start at 2:30 p.m., or whenever the Full Council meeting concludes that day.

View the Committee Agendas

  • Monday, April 29 
    Intro & SEEC Presentation; Central Staff Presentation
  • Monday, May 13 
    Issue ID
  • Tuesday, May 28
    Decision Agenda I (on Tuesday due to Memorial Day)
  • Monday, June 10
    Decision Agenda II and Committee Vote
  • Monday, June 17
    Contingency Committee Vote Date

Public Financing of Campaigns


Council Bill 117814, the legislation drafted by the Council to send a proposal to voters in November, was introduced on June 17.


Documents discussed at June 10 meeting:

The Council has formed a Special Committee on Public Campaign Finance to review the legislative proposal sent to Council by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) for the establishment of a public campaign finance system. The Committee will deliberate and make a final decision as to whether to send a proposal for consideration by voters in the November general election.

Here are links to the Commission's proposal:


The Council's review will follow the schedule below, which is subject to change. Sign up to receive e-mail notifications about upcoming meetings here. All meetings will start at 2:30 p.m., or whenever the Full Council meeting concludes that day.

  • Monday, April 29: Intro & SEEC Presentation; Central Staff Presentation
  • Monday, May 13: Issue ID
  • Tuesday, May 28: Decision Agenda I (on Tuesday due to Memorial Day)
  • Monday, June 10: Decision Agenda II and Committee Vote
  • Monday, June 17: Contingency Committee Vote Date


Earlier this year, the Council heard from officials that run public finance programs in other cities and from academics who have researched this topic.

January 31, 2013: Campaign Public Finance in practice (watch video)


February 13, 2013: Campaign Public Finance in research (watch video)


Background Information

In December 2012, Councilmembers Clark, Licata, O'Brien and Rasmussen sent a letter to the SEEC asking them to recommend a public financing model that meets the goals of increasing electoral competitiveness, reducing financial barriers to entry for candidates, and increasing the role and emphasis of small donors in the electoral process.


Important links

What is public campaign financing?
Public financing of campaigns is a system in which campaigns are funded in part with public dollars in order to increase electoral competitiveness and increase the role of small donors in the electoral process. All programs require candidates to raise funds from early supporters, which are then matched with public funds. It is an optional system in which candidates, both incumbents and challengers, can choose to participate. Municipal elections in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami currently use this system.

Considerations for campaign financing
In an effort to avoid a system where candidates only spend time talking to a smaller group of higher-dollar contributors, public financing is one way to allow candidates to broaden their campaign efforts with all voters.

Locally, Seattle's 2011 Election Report showed average campaign contributions reached an all-time high ($221), the number of small contributions (less than $100) fell to an all-time low (32 percent) and unspent campaign funds reached a new high. In addition, the average number of candidates per contested seat is trending downward, the average amount of money raised by the winning candidate has increased by 60 percent since 1995 and City incumbent re-election rate is at 84 percent since 1995.

In Nov. 2011, the Council passed Resolution 31337 outlining several issues for study, including how local elections are financed.

Seattle's history with public financing of campaigns
Seattle had partial public financing of election campaigns in 1979 and 1981, and from 1987-1991. In 1992, state Initiative 134 passed, prohibiting public financing. In 2008 the State legislature passed a law allowing local jurisdictions to establish programs to publicly finance campaigns, if approved by a public vote, and the funding is derived from local sources only.

The City Council responded by passing Resolution 31061, which set up a Campaign Public Financing Advisory Committee that recommended public financing of Seattle election campaigns. They recommended that the City Council place a measure on the November 2009 ballot for a public financing program, to go into effect for the 2011 election, with an estimated annual cost between $2.3 and $3.2 million. However, the Great Recession began and City revenues plummeted so the Council held off the vote indefinitely.



Does a candidate need an opponent to qualify for matching funds?
Yes. Public funds will not be disbursed in races with only one candidate.

How does a candidate qualify for matching funds?
Candidates would need to collect contributions of $10 or greater from 600 Seattle residents in order to qualify.

How long do you have to collect the minimum qualifying contributions to officially become eligible for public match funds?
Candidates would have from January 1 of the year of the election until 21 days after the filing deadline to collect qualifying contributions. For example, using the 2013 election year as an example, a candidate would have had from January 1, 2013 until June 7, 2013 (filing deadline was May 17, 2013) to collect $10 or more from 600 Seattle residents.

When do you need to declare your intent to participate in the program?
Candidates would have from January 1 of the year of the election until 21 days after the filing deadline to opt into the program, but must declare intent before collecting any contributions that will be used to qualify.

What is the maximum value of a qualifying donation that will be matched?
The public matching funds will be capped at $50 of any qualifying donation.

At what rate will qualifying donations be matched?
Private qualifying donations will be matched by public funds at a rate of 6:1.

What is the maximum amount a participant can receive?
Candidates who qualify for the program and maximize the public matching funds will receive $210,000 in public matching funds for the entire election, including both primary and general elections.

What is the maximum amount a participant can receive in the Primary?
Public matching funds will be capped at $105,000 for the primary election.

Will participants be held to a spending cap on total expenditures during the campaign?
Yes. Spending by candidates participating in the public financing system will be capped at $140,000 in expenditures in the primary election and at $245,000 in expenditures for both the primary and general elections combined.

What other key requirements are in place for becoming a Participating Candidate?
Candidates who opt into and qualify for public matching funds must agree to participate in a minimum of three public forums or debates during the course of the campaign.

What if a participating candidate does not draw a credible opponent? Does an opponent need to meet a specific threshold prior in order for a participating candidate to be eligible for matching funds?
Yes. The opponent of a participating candidate must have raised at least $6,000 in order to trigger the full release of public matching funds.

Must qualifying donations come from residents of Seattle?
Yes. Only donations from Seattle residents are eligible for matching funds.

Must qualifying donations come from registered voters in Seattle?
No. Qualifying donations can come from any Seattle residents.

Must qualifying donations come from individuals (not corporations or groups)?
Yes. Only donations from individuals residing in Seattle will be eligible for matching funds. No contributions from businesses, labor unions, PACs or other organizations will be matched with public funds.

Are participants prohibited from taking donations from corporations or groups?
No. Participating candidates may accept contributions from businesses, labor unions, PACs or other organizations, but these funds will not be matched by public funds. Additionally, funds raised from these groups will count towards the overall spending cap of the campaign, and could result in less public matching funds for a candidate.

What happens in the event that the combined funds raised and by an opponent and/or Independent Expenditure supporting the opponent exceed the cap ($140,000 in the primary or $245,000 in the general) limit that the publicly funded candidate has agreed to?
The primary and general election caps on the candidates participating in the public financing program will be lifted in the event that either (a) the privately funded opponent’s fundraising exceed the cap, or (b) Independent Expenditures supporting an opponent exceed the cap.

How will Independent Expenditures be attributed to specific candidates?
The Director of the Seattle Ethics Elections Commission will make the initial determination based on an assessment of which candidate(s) benefited from the Independent Expenditure. The Commission would hear appeals.

How will the public financing program be funded and administered?
The costs for funding and administering the program would be funded through a property tax levy of six-years, for up to $2 million per year.

What elements of the program can be modified by the Council, if adopted by the public?
The Council can make slight modifications to the program if adopted by the public, including any program dollar value by no more than 15% and the number of matching contributions by no more than 100, but only after receiving a report with recommendations from the Commission.

What happens to the Program if the District elections ballot measure is approved by voters?
The program being put to the ballot would only apply to the citywide, "at-large" Council seats, and will not apply to the seven districts created. Council could go back to the voters in future years to amend the public financing system to include districts, if the district proposal should also pass in November.


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