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Ben Stuckart targets ‘dark’ and ‘gray’ political money with city campaign finance law

October 28, 2017

""The law would target groups like Better Spokane, a nonprofit that formed earlier this year as a social welfare organization whose donors are exempt from public disclosure. The group also created a political action committee, an entity that collects contributions for campaign purposes and reports those expenses and donations to the state.


Better Spokane’s political arm has been active in several local races, including opposing the coal and oil train fine initiative and efforts to oust Breean Beggs and Candace Mumm from the City Council.While the Better Spokane nonprofit hasn’t made cash contributions to any political candidate or in support of a particular initiative, Michael Cathcart, its executive director, has been working on those political campaigns.


The work has been given a monetary value, for the hours and space used, as “in-kind contributions” on financial filings with the state filed by organization’s political committee.Under Stuckart’s proposed law, the Better Spokane nonprofit would have to reveal its top 10 donors to the city because of that political activity.


Michael Senske, chief executive of Pearson Packaging Systems and a Better Spokane board member, said that while he agreed with the goal of transparency, requiring such disclosure could unfairly link nonprofit donors with political activity they may not agree with.“If this became kind of fodder for partisanship, or political gamesmanship, some of our donors would have significant concerns about it,” Senske said.


The Better Spokane nonprofit formed as a nonpartisan group earlier this year in consultation with attorneys, Senske said. While influencing politics and policy is part of the group’s mission, the agency also has goals outside of the political arena, including business recruitment and civic education.


Stuckart said he’s been working on reforms for months, and wasn’t targeting any group specifically with his proposed ordinance.“This is a suite of reforms,” Stuckart said. “That’s just an example of dark money.”


In response to Stuckart’s criticism, and after speaking with Billig about his state-level legislation aimed at curbing dark money, Better Spokane put out a statement this week identifying Senske and fellow board member Fritz Wolff as the donors that have provided the $20,000 in contributions that has funded Better Spokane’s political activity to date.“


We wanted to be as transparent as possible, and just get it out there,” Senske said.Stuckart applauded the post, but said it still didn’t go far enough to reveal donors.“It’s still dark money,” Stuckart said. ""


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