Opinion

Let’s weaken big money’s grip on government

Terry Bergeson of Tacoma was Washington’s elected state public schools chief from 1997 to 2008.
Terry Bergeson of Tacoma was Washington’s elected state public schools chief from 1997 to 2008.

As an educator and former statewide elected official, I urge you to join me in voting yes on Initiative 1464. We need to curb the influence of big money in politics, and give Washington voters a stronger voice.

Washington has a long and valued tradition of government transparency and accountability. During my 12 years as superintendent of public instruction, I came to understand and appreciate that tradition deeply.

I worked with strong elected leaders from both sides of the aisle — governors, secretaries of state, attorneys general and legislative leaders who sometimes held very different political views, but worked together to represent the people of our state through an open and fair process.

Now big money and secrecy are undermining the integrity of the democratic system here just as they have in Washington, D.C. I thank the News Tribune for highlighting education funding. In fact, the needs of our schools are a powerful example of this problem; wealthy special interests have been the single largest roadblock to fully funding our state education system.

I-1464 strengthens outdated campaign and lobbying rules. Rather than hiding behind cleverly named political action committees, political ads will be required to include the real names of the interests paying for them so we know who is trying to influence our votes.

Campaign contributions from lobbyists and government contractors will be limited to $100, and the initiative will close the revolving door between lobbying and government by requiring a waiting period before former elected officials and senior staff can take jobs as lobbyists.

To ensure new and existing rules are enforced effectively, I-1464 properly funds and empowers the Public Disclosure Commission, the campaign watchdog agency that we, the people, created by initiative in 1972 but has been underfunded by the Legislature for years.

Beyond curtailing the influence of wealthy special interests, I-1464 empowers voters to have a bigger voice in who represents them. It establishes a voluntary system to direct small contributions to candidates who abide by even stricter rules. It also offers candidates who play by the rules a way to run for office without cozying up to big-money interests.

The voluntary system will allow Washington residents to direct up to three $50 credits each election. It is paid for by closing a tax loophole for out-of-state residents.

While the TNT Editorial Board opposes I-1464, saying it would like to see this loophole go toward education, that is a false choice. Families and educators have been trying for years to close this loophole and put the money toward public schools, only to see legislation stymied by well-connected lobbyists.

More fundamentally, the $30 million per year from this loophole would make just a 1.7-percent dent in the state’s $3.5 billion education funding gap.

Unless we fix our broken political system, we will not be able to tackle the big challenges on issues like education. I-1464 is an investment in fixing that system. It will limit the influence of big money, require transparency and accountability, and take important steps to make sure our process represents everyone in Washington — not just those who can afford to hire a lobbyist.

No single law can eliminate the influence of big money. But I-1464 makes practical reforms to return power to the voters. We have strong and diverse views in our state, and we will always fight for our beliefs. That’s who we are, and debate is good. It is our job as Washington voters to require an open and honest competition of ideas, supported by a system of fair elections and government by the people.

I-1464 will help ensure people from all political perspectives who lead with integrity, clear thinking and problem solving skills have more power to be heard.

Terry Bergeson of Tacoma served three terms as Washington’s superintendent of public instruction. More recently, she has worked as an interim dean of education at Pacific Lutheran University and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Washington Tacoma.

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