The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night voted 6-1 for an ordinance placing a $500 limit on donations to city council and mayoral races, but the road to the vote was paved with a variety of amendments aimed at making the limit even lower.
At one point, an amendment to an amendment brought the proposed limit to 80 cents – suggested somewhat tongue-in-cheek by Councilmember D.J. Wilson after Councilmember Michael Plunkett proposed an $80 limit, which Plunkett said was the average contribution made to council races in the last election. After both of those amendments were rejected, Councilmember Dave Orvis proposed a $250 limit, which also failed by a 3-4 vote. The Council then returned to the original $500 limit as proposed by the ordinance creator, Council President Steve Bernheim, and that was approved 6-1.
As My Edmonds News covered the fluctuating donation limit proposals via Twitter feed, one Twitter follower was prompted to tweet that the process sounded “like an auction.”
The only dissenting vote was cast by Peterson, who made it clear from the start he was opposed to the limit. Instead, Councilmember Strom Peterson suggested that the council defer to a bill being considered by the Washington State Legislature that would propose uniform campaign limits on all local races statewide. Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas expressed support for that stance, offering an amendment that the council table the measure until March 16 (and presumably the end of the legislative session). That amendment failed on a 3-4 vote.
Wilson suggested the Council follow the $800 donation limit already established by the State Public Disclosure Commission. And both Wilson and Peterson argued that the limit 1) would give an advantage to wealthy candidates who could provide an unlimited source of their own campaign funds and 2) could be circumvented through donations to political action committees which could in turn influence the election outcome.
“All the limit will do is hide the money,” Peterson said. “If someone wants to give $10,000, they’ll find a way and that way will be less transparent.”
In the end, Wilson decided to follow the rest of the Council — minus Peterson — in voting for the measure.