Improving transparency is not anti-transit

Washington state must improve disclosure rules so the public knows who is spending what to influence public opinion, policy and ballot-measure outcomes.

WASHINGTON lawmakers and regulators must bring more transparency and accountability to the powerful forces raising billions for transit projects in the Seattle area.

Doing so is not anti-transit. It’s good government. Improving disclosure of lobbying and campaign spending will benefit Sound Transit and other public agencies by increasing public trust.

As reported Sunday by Times opinion columnist Brier Dudley, shortcomings in disclosure rules leave the public in the dark about who is spending what to influence state and regional transportation policy, public opinion and ballot measures.

Have questions?

Columnist Brier Dudley will be responding to reader questions from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday online. Read the project and join the conversation by going to: st.news/transitspendingq-a

Readers can post questions any time in the comment thread.

Legislators and the Public Disclosure Commission should respond by improving disclosure requirements for grass-roots lobbying activity.

They should clarify that campaigns seeking to influence local ballot measures, as well as state measures, must fully report their activities.

Public agencies should also be barred from funding private advocacy groups that lobby to increase funding of the agencies. Seattle advocacy group Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) received more than $1 million over the last decade from public agencies that benefited from TCC’s work to increase transit spending via ballot measures.

The IRS should scrutinize whether TCC is truly an educational organization eligible to receive tax-deductible donations, and where education overlaps with lobbying and politics.

State policymakers must also strengthen disclosure rules and bring transparency to special-interest spending that influences voting and policy via nonprofit organizations such as TCC.

The goal is not to limit advocacy or end transit spending. This is about upholding the law, particularly Washington’s public disclosure law, established by a voter initiative in 1972.

Transparency required by this law is more important than ever as people are increasingly distrustful of government, diminishing their faith and engagement in public affairs.

Washington’s disclosure law requires that “political campaign and lobbying contributions and…

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