All Politics is Local

That new port race campaign finance law won’t go into effect for a little longer

Jack Burkman will text you late at night if he thinks your wrong (which is good, mostly.)

Of the many glamorous perks of being a Columbian political reporter (such as having a drawer in my desk for snacks and usually bountiful supply of sporks in the break room) includes getting late night text messages from public figures regarding ambiguity in the state’s campaign finance laws.

Several weeks ago, I was trying to relax after a long day of stress eating and watching government TV when I got a text from Jack Burkman, a former Vancouver city councilman who is running for port commission.

Burkman was texting me to dispute a detail in a story that ran last month on Gov. Jay Inslee signing a bill that would cap campaign contributions for all port commission races in the state. The bill was introduced by Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, in response to the 2017 port race where over a million dollars flowed into the contest, which had effectively become a referendum on a proposed oil terminal.

After texting each other screenshots of the bill’s language, Public Disclosure Commission guidelines and legislative staff reports it was after 10 p.m. and we had moved on to texting each other portions of the Washington Administrative Code trying to conclusively determine the contribution limits the new law established.

As it approached 11 p.m., we both heard from the bill’s sponsor and Burkman agreed with what was in my story. However, it was clear there was some ambiguity and perhaps unintended consequences in the new law that he would follow up on.

I later heard back from Burkman earlier this month who said via a Twitter message that he had heard back from the Public Disclosure Commission.

The law imposes the same campaign contribution limits in effect for the port commissions of Seattle and Tacoma on all port commission races. So under the new law, individuals, unions, businesses and political committees can donate $2,000 total for port elections ($2,000 for the primary and another $2,000 for the general).

But Burkman said that part of his answer from the PDC was unexpected. Wylie introduced the bill with the intention of it being in effect for the upcoming port election. However, the law doesn’t go into effect until July 28, so a deep-pocket donor could load up their gold-plated dump truck from their swimming pool of money and deliver it to the port commission candidate of their choice.

However, Burkman won’t be taking any gold-plated dump trucks of money. Burkman, who announced his candidacy in January, voluntarily limited his campaign contributions to $1,000 per person or business per election.

Despite the campaign contribution cap not going into effect for two more months, money hasn’t, so far, poured into the port race. According to the most recent Public Disclosure filings, Burkman has reported $5,509 in contributions. His opponent Daniel Barnes has reported $1,000.

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