Senate Republicans warn bill to move up state primary would undo 25 years of campaign finance reform

OLYMPIA…A bill sponsored by Senate Democrats to move the state primary election to earlier in the year reminds many at the Capitol of the dark days when campaigns and Legislative ethics were blatantly ignored, leading to scandal and sweeping changes to ethics rules.

Senate Bill 5270 would move the state primary election to the third Tuesday in May, which moves the candidate-filing period to the fourth Monday in February. In doing so, it extends the length of the campaign season, prolonging the time campaign signs are posted and campaign mailers are clogging up mailboxes.

It also opens up members of the Legislature to solicit and accept money from some stakeholders while still voting on bills affecting those stakeholders.

“This bill creates the potential for a conflict of interest. A Legislator could accept a contribution from a member of an organization in a house across the street from the Capitol and then walk back to Senate chambers and vote to pass a bill that directly affects that organization,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chair Randi Becker, R-Olympia.

“We’ve come a long way in separating campaign work from Legislative work. Let’s not move backward,” said Becker.

“Does no one remember 1992 when some were setting up phone banks in their offices and money was changing hands for votes? The Legislative ethics rules that resulted from scandal were a leap forward in enforcing the strict line between campaigns and legislative work. This bill would destroy that in one stroke,” said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.

“We’re already seeing some Senate Democrats facilitating the illegal use of state resources by Emerge Washington — an organization whose purpose is to recruit and train political candidates. Emerge was even honored on the Senate floor, which is entirely inappropriate and resulted in two ethics complaints against their members,” said Schoesler. “The Democrats already think they can do whatever they want. This bill would embolden them even further.”

SB 5270 would also end what is referred to as the “campaign freeze,” which is the time during the legislative session when those members who will be up for re-election are prohibited from sending out e-newsletters and mailers so legislative communications won’t be confused with campaign messaging.

SB 5270 passed out of the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee and is likely to be voted on by the Senate.