OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Washington state Senate passed a bill targeting political spending by corporations with significant foreign ownership on Wednesday along party lines.
Senate Bill 5284 was introduced by Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, and sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, among others.
The elements targeting foreign influence are modeled after a Seattle law that bans political donations from companies with at least five percent foreign ownership. SB 5284 would apply that standard to the whole state.
In addition to targeting corporations with foreign ownership, the bill would also change expenditure reporting requirements for campaigns, compel corporations to certify no foreign influence when making independent expenditures or contributions and increase oversight of online political ads by putting responsibility of those ads on the person placing them.
"This bill is about transparency and ensuring we are in control of our own elections," said Sen. Nguyen. "Our future should be decided by the voters."
SB 5284 was requested by the state's Public Disclosure Commission (PDC). At a public hearing on Jan. 24, PDC officials highlighted that the bill would adjust campaign reporting schedules.
That change, according to PDC Director Peter Lavallee, is necessary because Washington holds its elections by mail, with a wide timeframe to submit ballots.
"We get our ballots early — people are voting earlier and earlier," said Lavallee. "We just want to make sure the information that's important to voters when they make those decisions is available in recognition of the timeframes in which people vote."
Conner Edwards, a campaign treasurer in Washington state, argued during that hearing the revised reporting schedule would add onerous regulations for his profession.
"There is no evidence that suggests this change is warranted," said Edwards. "We've had mail in voting for 10 plus years, and it seems to have worked out pretty well."
Edwards went on to criticize the bill for adding a reporting deadline a week before ballots are mailed.
"Asking treasurers to file an additional C-4 report before voters actually have their ballots in hand is like asking us to mow the lawn before the grass is long enough to be cut by the blade," said Edwards.
The version of the bill passed by the Senate maintained an additional C-4 report above what is currently required by law but changed the date to the 34th day before a general election, instead of the 27th.
SB 5284 will now be considered by the state House of Representatives.