Spokane City Council raises campaign contribution cap to $1,000

Sep. 27—Spokane politicians will have an easier time raising money next year when they run for office.

The Spokane City Council on Sept. 12 voted to change city law and raise the individual donor limit from $500 to $1,000. The amendment passed 6-1, with City Councilman Jonathan Bingle voting against it.

Under the previous city law, individuals could usually give a maximum of $500 to each candidate, half the $1,000 state limit. The law had allowed $1,000 donations for races in which a politician spent more than $11,500 of their own money, or a third party spent more than that amount supporting or opposing a candidate.

Spokane's donation laws haven't always been more restrictive than the state's. The City Council in 2018 lowered the individual donor limit while overhauling Spokane's campaign finance law.

At the time, council members argued a $500 cap would force politicians to reach out to more constituents instead of relying on a smaller number of donors with deeper pockets.

City Councilman Zack Zappone, who pushed to restore the $1,000 limit, said that concept was sound and gave power to smaller donors. It hasn't worked as envisioned though, he said.

Yes, politicians have had to seek out more donors to fund their campaigns, Zappone said. But he said that increase in donors has been overshadowed by a massive uptick in independent expenditures.

Independent expenditures, which are not capped by state law, are investments made in support of or opposition to a candidate without the candidate's input. One example would be if a political action committee bought billboard space to praise a politician, but didn't consult with that politician beforehand.

Zappone said independent expenditures allow political action committees to have more influence than small donors. He used his own City Council campaign last year as an example.

In 2021, Zappone raised $102,000. The Spokane Good Government Alliance, which counts the Spokane Home Builders Association among its donors, spent more than $84,000 opposing Zappone's election.

Allowing individuals to donate $1,000 will help them better compete with those big outside expenditures, Zappone said.

Bingle said he thinks raising the cap is a good idea but voted nay because he disagrees with the existing city law that prohibits city contractors from donating to candidates. The law specifically applies to businesses that have had a city contract in the previous two years worth more than $50,000.

The intent of that prohibition is "noble" and seeks to reduce the likelihood of sweetheart deals, Bingle said. But he said if contractors can't donate, unions shouldn't be able to either.

"We don't want city contractors donating to people and then getting preferential treatment," Bingle said. "Well, we don't want that from unions."

Bingle noted that developers disproportionately donate to conservative candidates while unions tend to donate to liberals.

Zappone said he believes it makes sense to treat contractors differently.

"They are personally profiting off of contracts with the city, whereas workers are not," he said. "They are an individual entity."