The public financing system would be voluntary--candidates would have the opportunity to opt in if they could prove their viability via a certain number of small donations. After that, their campaign expenditures would come out of the public fund, which would provide them more money if their opponents outspent them. A number of states have such systems--most notably, Maine and Arizona, in which all state offices are eligible for publicly-financed campaigns.
The bills were at least partly inspired by the BIAW's generous spending on previous Supreme Court races--particularly in 2006, when it bankrolled property rights lawyer John Groen's failed challenge of Chief Justice Gerry Alexander. (More on that race and Washington's judicial campaigns in my feature from last October.) In the legislative session after the race, Christine Gregoire and others introduced public financing proposals for judicial races
Still, this year's bills' chances aren't so hot, given that public financing always encounters opposition from both monied interests and libertarians, that the BIAW didn't spend on last year's Supreme Court races, and given the state's budget deficit. (Neither bill has received a hearing yet.)
The bills don't call for any state moeny, notes Eric Oemig (D, Kirkland), the Senate bill's sponsor. "Arguably, the funding could come from same kinds of sources already [funding political campaigns]," he says. Nevertheless, "it's a hard ask to make on a tight budget" and "definitely not a priority" for this session, which will be focused on balancing the budget. "We're trying to start a conversation," he says.