Lawmakers seek to bring campaign donations out of the shadows

The DISCLOSE Act would require nonprofits to reveal their biggest donors.

A proposed Senate bill and its companion in the House could provide Washington citizens greater transparency on elections across the state.

Senate Bill 5991 calls for the creation of the Washington State DISCLOSE Act — “democracy is strengthened by casting light on spending in elections” — to shine a light on nonprofit organizations’ largest donors. The bill has received the support of 27 senators from both sides of the aisle, and passed committee Friday morning.

SB 5991 would force nonprofits to file a statement with the Public Disclosure Commission if the organization spent at least $10,000 on political campaigns in a calendar year.

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, the bill’s primary sponsor, said the proposed law close legal that allow political contributors to remain hidden.

“The DISCLOSE Act, is about bringing dark money into the light,” Billig said. “The public has a right to know and to be informed about the source of funds that are influencing our elections.”

The senator used as an example Stand for Children, an organization that has a political committee and a nonprofit wing. Billig said donors can make contributions to the nonprofit side, which can then funnel money to the political committee without disclosing who the donors are.

Kathy Sakahara of the League of Women Voters of Washington said such transactions are loopholes in the system, and were never meant to be allowed under current laws.

“It feels a little bit like sometimes we’re down here playing whack-a-mole,” Sakahara said. “People find new ways to get around the intent of the law by still complying with the letter of the law.”

Sakahara also said the point is not just to let citizens know who donors are, but is about showing them that their public servants care about transparency.

But Paul Guppy, the Washington Policy Center’s vice president for research, said the bill would target every nonprofit organization in the state and would discourage private donations. Guppy said that free speech is not a loophole and private donors should not be subjected to public harassment because they want to donate to a cause.

American Civil Liberties Union of Washington Legislative Director Elisabeth Smith said her organization refuses to support the bill because it chills political activity. Smith said a larger problem is that people would get lumped in with causes they might not even support.

Smith said the ACLU’s largest donors might support the organization for various reasons, but if the ACLU uses resources to support a specific cause, those donors’ names would be revealed even if they were opposed to that cause.

But Cindy Black, executive director of Fix Democracy First, said this bill is an important step to inspiring confidence in a public jaded by modern politics.

“Transparency is one of the few things that we still can do,” she said. “Disclosure is one way to help curb some of the corruption.”

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

More in Northwest

Walkers rest amid the trees at Island Center Forest on Vashon Island, which is part of King County. Many trees around Western Washington are struggling, including Western hemlock on Vashon, likely from drought stress. Photo by Susie Fitzhugh
King County forests are facing new challenges

Hot, dry summers are stressing native tree species in Western Washington.

Washington State Capitol Building. Photo by Emma Epperly/WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Legislation targets rape kit backlog

WA has about 10,000 untested kits; new law would reduce testing time to 45 days

Federal Way resident competes for top 20 spot on ‘American Idol’

Todd Beamer senior Myra Tran previously won “The X-Factor Vietnam” in 2016.

The 2015 Wolverine Fire in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest near Lake Chelan. Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Natural Resources/Kari Greer
Western Washington faces elevated wildfire risk in 2019

Humans cause majority of fires in state

Defense Distributed’s 3D printed gun, The Liberator. Photo by Vvzvlad/Wikimedia Commons
‘Ghost gun’ bill moves to Senate committees

Legislation would make 3-D printed guns illegal.

Michelle Obama brings largest crowd of book tour to Tacoma Dome

Former First Lady and author of ‘Becoming’ spends afternoon with local book club prior to event.

A man addresses the King County Council during a public hearing March 20 at New Life Church in Renton. He presented bags filled with what he said was hazardous materials dropped on his property by bald eagles. Another speaker made similar claims. Haley Ausbun/staff photo
Locals show support for King County waste to energy plant

Public hearing on landfill’s future was held March 20 in Renton.

After being homeless, Christy X (pictured) moved into her Coniston Arms Apartments unit in Seattle at the beginning of 2019. She had bounced around from shelters to friends’ places after facing an eviction at her West Seattle apartment in October 2018. A diversion program run by the nonprofit Mary’s Place helped her find housing. File photo
State lawmakers consider eviction reform legislation

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, is bill’s prime sponsor.

Gov. Jay Inlsee signs into law the Native American Voting Rights Act, which allows a non-traditional address to be used for voter registration for residents who live on reservations. Photo by Emma Epperly/WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Native American Voting Rights Act signed into law

Non-traditional addresses can be used for voter registration on tribal lands

The Cedar Hills Regional Landfill is the only active landfill in King County. It will operate until at least 2028. It has been in operation since the 1960s. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
Waste study puts numbers behind King County trash alternatives

County has one remaining landfill located near Maple Valley, and it’s nearing capacity

Courtesy photo
State lawmakers seek permanent daylight saving time in Washington

Senate and House are working toward compromise on two bills; voters could decide in November election

U.S. is now grounding Renton-made 737 MAX 8 and 9; Boeing supports decision

Update: The decision does not affect Renton production lines.