Remarks on the Fight for Public Financing

On June 30th, four City Councilmembers claimed that they were defending the democratic process by refusing to allow public financing of elections to be considered by the City Council. This refusal has been a blow to many grassroots activists, and serves as another example of how the establishment stifles measures taken to strengthen public participation in governance.

I fully support the public financing of elections. Having run two election campaigns where I did not take a penny from corporations, I understand how difficult it is to compete with corporate money.

Big business and the super-rich have unchecked, unbalanced, and undemocratic power in our society because almost every candidate depends on their money. And that money buys favors. Every week I see corporate representatives visiting the politicians they have funded, and we see many members of the City Council pushing a pro-business, anti-worker agenda on everything from regulating ridesharing companies to raising Seattle’s minimum wage.

Public financing would be a great step forward. In addition, such a measure should be funded by taxing big business and the super-wealthy, not by further taxing working households or people living on fixed incomes.

But even with public financing, corporations would still dominate through control of the media and the troves of money used to run misinformation campaigns. The defeat of Initiative 522 to label genetically modified foods is a clear example of the power of corporate cash. There was overwhelming support for labeling, but after tens of millions of dollars in misinformation campaigns the biotech companies prevailed and I-522 was defeated.

At the same time, the historic passage of a $15/hour minimum wage in Seattle is a clear example of the power of working people. We won by building a movement and demanding that the City Council move quickly, threatening to take it to the ballot if they failed to lift 100,000 Seattle workers out of poverty. The pro-worker amendments were brought by public servants not beholden to corporations, while the pro-business amendments were pushed by Democratic Party representatives on the Council serving business interests.

We need more than just public financing to challenge corporate power. As long as we live in an economic system based on private profits, corporations will continue to dominate the political landscape. Just look at what happened with Boeing: the Democratic-controlled State Legislature, and Democratic Governor Jay Inslee and Democratic Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, recently called a special session to give an $8.7 billion hand-out to Boeing. At the same time, Washington has systematically cut funding to education and other social services.

We need more independent left candidates to run for office and challenge business as usual. We need to build social justice movements. And ultimately, we need to take large corporations under democratic control to be run in the interests of the majority of society.

I thank everyone who has joined the fight for public financing. I will continue to advocate for all measures that lead to representation that better reflects the needs of the working people who make this city run.

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