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Why a campaign finance pledge hasn't gone far in U.S. House race

Joe McDermott
Flickr Photo/Ronald Woan (CC BY NC 2.0)/
Joe McDermott has signed a pledge denouncing certain political donations in his race to replace U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott.

In the race to replace retiring U.S. Representative Jim McDermott, campaign finance is top of mind. Nine candidates are running for the Seattle-area House position.

Among them, Joe McDermott has signed a pledge denouncing certain political donations, and he's asking opponents to do the same.

Democrat Joe McDermott is no stranger to the election process, as a King County Council member and former state representative. At a debate sponsored by KCTS-9 last month, he asked his opponents to denounce independent expenditures.  He said it's important for all nine of them to make it clear the race is about the people in the district, not about outside interests.

McDermott asked all the candidates to “agree to a People's Pledge rejecting all independent expenditures in this race, that's secret money that is corrupting our democracy."

Independent expenditures are ads that advocate for or against a candidate that weren't made in direct cooperation with a campaign. The pledge would require candidates to donate money to charity if they benefit from one of those ads.

The only other candidate to sign so far is Dr. Arun Jhavari, former Burien mayor.

But Democratic state Senator Pramila Jayapal and Democratic state Representative Brady Walkinshaw have both spoken about the need for campaign finance reform. They have also raised the most money in the race so far.

Walkinshaw said he would sign the pledge if Jayapal does.  “I think the importance of this is that it's about collective action, and I would join my colleagues in that collective action but it's important that we all do it together," Walkinshaw said.

Jayapal said she doesn't plan to sign and called the pledge a gimmick. “We don’t control independent expenditures. The whole point of it being called an independent expenditure is that candidates don't know anything about them. And so the People's Pledge, while I understand the intent of it, it really has not worked when it's been used in other places," Jayapal said.

Western Washington University political science professor Todd Donovan agreed the pledge is a bit of a gimmick. He said candidates can’t control who donates that type of advertising, though the pledge may have symbolic impact.

There are currently no reported independent expenditures in this race. In 2012, independent expenditures in Washington state's Congressional races amounted to $2.3 million.