A race for a seat on the Port of Vancouver Board of Commissioners has brought in more than $1 million. That's prompted lawmakers in Southwest Washington to consider new legislation that could limit contributions for future elections.
Currently, candidates for port elections in Vancouver can receive an unlimited amount of money from individuals and corporations.
“That opens the door for one stakeholder or entity to have influence over a candidate in a port race,” said Rep. Monica Stonier, whose district includes the Port.
Vancouver port races, along with other small port districts in Washington, aren’t subject to the same campaign laws as other local elections.
In 2006, Washington lawmakers passed a law that sets campaign limits on larger port districts with more than 200,000 registered voters, like Tacoma and Seattle.
In those two cities, caps for individual donations in port races are set at $2,000 per election cycle. That law does not apply in Vancouver’s port district, which has 178,344 registered voters.
But Stonier and her colleague, Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, are proposing a fix next session. They both became concerned watching this year’s election, because big oil is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into candidate Kris Greene’s campaign.
“Port elections are mostly sleepy races,” said Wylie. “This is not a sleepy race.”
More than 87 percent of the nearly $600,000 Greene has raised is from Tesoro-Savage and Vancouver Energy, backers of an oil-by rail terminal proposed in Vancouver that, if built, would be the largest in the nation.
“It doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Wylie. “There are huge matters before the port that affect that terminal project and I think this is a pure conflict of interest.”
Wylie and Stonier’s legislation would bring all ports under the same set of campaign rules.
“This is an ethical issue,” said Stonier. “A lot of citizens who are frustrated with the influence of money in politics would agree that it doesn’t make sense that ports smaller than 200,000 registered voters would be exempt.”