Seattle’s plan for tax-payer funded “democracy vouchers” to keep big money out of politics hasn’t kept big money out


Private property owner tax dollars at work

In January I told you about Seattle’s voter-approved Initiative 122 which allows the City of Seattle to take money from private property owners and redistribute it to voters in the form of taxpayer-funded campaign-contribution vouchers. The “Honest Elections” measure authorized a 10-year, $30 million property-tax levy to pay for the program claiming it would “get big money out of politics.”

Approved by city voters in 2015, the Democracy Voucher program sets aside a new pot of property tax money to give four, $25 campaign vouchers to the each of the city’s registered voters. Those voters, in turn, can pick which candidates or candidate get their vouchers taxpayer money. In exchange, participating candidates agree to spending caps.

From my post: Proponent Aaron Ostrom, executive director of the progressive activist organization Fuse Washington, hailed the program’s launch. “This is an exciting chance to strengthen democracy and level the playing field in Seattle,“ Ostrom said. ”Candidates can compete based on their values and leadership abilities rather than their connections to wealthy friends and corporate donors.”

In June I reported on how the program had so far redistributed $230,000 of taxpayer money to three candidates participating in the democracy voucher program.  From my post: The only program of its type in the country, the vouchers experiment was geared for three primary effects: Taking the big money out of local politics; improving voter participation rates; and bringing new candidates to the process.

So how is the “democracy voucher” program doing in terms of “leveling the playing field” and “taking big money out of local politics?” Just as you would expect…

Bob Young reports for the Seattle Times that Amazon dumped $250,000 into the political action committee (PAC) of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce this month, part of the $667,728 the PAC has amassed in advance of Tuesday’s primary election.

From his report: Unlike candidates, PACs can collect unlimited amounts. And 50 corporations, business groups and individuals account for the vast majority of the chamber’s political arsenal.

The PAC has already started spending on newspaper and social-media ads through so-called independent expenditure (IE) campaigns in City Council and mayoral races. Those IE campaigns can’t coordinate with candidates — and they don’t face spending caps like candidates who take democracy vouchers.

Alan Durning, who helped author I-122, said he’s pleased with how it’s working so far on its “shakedown cruise” in City Council races, which for the primary means Positions 8 and 9. It has helped a couple of candidates compete with well-funded rivals, said Durning, executive director of the nonprofit Sightline Institute.

As for the chamber’s bulging kitty, Durning said he doesn’t think it has much to do with the four $25 vouchers sent to every registered voter in Seattle. He sees it as part of a national trend in elections flowing from a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision barring restrictions on independent political expenditures by corporations, unions and other groups.

Bob Mahon, a former chairman of the watchdog Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, disagrees. Mahon said it’s not likely money will be squeezed out of politics by I-122, “but will be driven to less transparent forms of expenditures including IEs.”

There isn’t enough evidence to show democracy vouchers are causing this, Mahon said. But there is a correlation developing, he said, that increased IEs are occurring after limits were lowered on contributions to candidates. The chamber PAC already has raised more than it did for the 2013 and 2015 city elections combined.

More from Mr. Young’s story: Vouchers and IEs have been most prominent in the primary for City Council Position 8. Moneywise, three candidates stand out in a deep field (the top two vote-getters on Tuesday, as in all primary races, advance to the Nov. 7 general election).

Jon Grant, an affordable-housing activist, set out in the winter to start gathering vouchers. Grant accumulated the maximum amount in voucher-contributions, $150,000, allowed in the primary under the agreed-upon spending cap. Teresa Mosqueda, a labor-movement leader, was the second council candidate to qualify. As of Friday, Mosqueda had $104,825 in vouchers.

Sara Nelson, a business owner and former City Council aide, chose not to use vouchers, so she is not tied to a spending cap or lower maximum contributions ($250 as opposed to $500). Nelson has received $130,335 in contributions, with nearly half coming from $500-maximum contributions.

An IE campaign supporting her, People for Sara Nelson, has reported $120,696 in contributions and spending obligations. The chief donors are the chamber’s PAC — whose biggest contributors are Amazon, Vulcan and developer Richard Hedreen — and a hotel and restaurant group, Seattle Hospitality for Progress.

Under I-122 rules, when the IE backing Nelson and her own campaign contributions exceeded the primary spending cap that Grant and Mosqueda had agreed to, it triggered a sort of fairness doctrine: Those two were then free to collect and spend contributions above the cap.

During the 2015 campaign for democracy vouchers, critics including Mahon predicted I-122 would lead to such a “double-dip” with candidates raising the full amount of vouchers, then opting out of spending caps and raising unlimited additional campaign cash.

Read the rest of the story here.


17 responses to “Seattle’s plan for tax-payer funded “democracy vouchers” to keep big money out of politics hasn’t kept big money out

  1. Thank you, DCG, for your persistence in reporting Seattle’s political idiocies. I’m beginning to think Seattle government is the anti-Midas: like Obama, everything Seattle touches turns into crap.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. We already know they’re corrupt to the core. We know that the Supreme Court ruling is ridiculous. Money is not “speech” (or at least it shouldn’t be). Any politician taking bribes should be jailed.

    They should go to the presstitutes and make free air time a condition of their licensing. Candidates should be barred from buying any air time or advertising beyond their allotment. All on a level playing field. Anyone who qualifies gets exactly the same exposure.

    They have cleaner elections in India and Pakistan than we do.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice. Also, this isn’t a democracy aka the only form of government worse than tyranny. The USA is a republic, but domestic and foreign enemies are trying hard to get everyone the right to vote in US elections, even if they’re in foreign countries. That’s the kind of lunatics they are.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Kevin J Lankford

    I confess I am confounded by the whole process. seems that ridiculous sums of money are still being proffered, and in the confusion, the most corrupt will wind up with the most.

    No doubt just another scam to confuse us simple minded.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Just another redistribution program to make proggies feel like they are accomplishing something, IMO.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I agree. I think the point I’m trying to make is that they really don’t want fair elections. They are afraid no one will vote for them. They would rather use money to install their commie friends.

        All the sanctimonious talk is just that, talk. Just look at their behavior in other areas. The theme is the same. They have no tolerance for differences of opinion. Theirs is the only opinion that counts.

        Liked by 2 people

        • lophatt . . . . . Congratulations! I think you nailed this argument . . . “They are afraid no one will vote for them. They would rather use money to install their commie friends.” and furthermore . . . “They have no tolerance for differences of opinion. Theirs is the only opinion that counts.” No matter what, the fix is in!

          The fact that money is extracted from property owners via an amendment to their property taxes to issue these four $25.00 vouchers each per voter just burns my cookies to a crisp. Then we see that those who have chosen to accept the vouchers, with a stipulated cap in place . . . but when they see someone else who chose not to take ANY VOUCHERS outpace them in dollars flowing in, are then free to abandon the cap they agree to, and can now start bringing in plenty of bucks on top of all the free money they “stole” from property tax payers.

          I don’t mind saying that as a resident of Portland, Oregon, 250 miles or so South of Seattle, we get that evil Communist wind flowing down over our fair city, and then our City Counsel, County Counsel, and State Legislature start coming up with all this $hit that Seattle enacts. It is just abominable, in the breath and scope of Socialism that is taking over our governments. Seattle is also one city where they moan and groan over high rents, then all of a sudden they want to start punitive measures against landlords . . . they don’t see any connection to raising property tax rates in order to extract monies out of landlords in order to pay for money for political candidates, and landlords increasing the amount of basic rents to cover the increase they must pay for their property taxes. My Heavens! These folks have $hit for brains.

          DCG . . . . . I’m mighty proud of you for keeping us abreast of all the garbage that goes on up in Seattle. This kind of stuff will be the ruination of our society.

          Liked by 3 people

          • Thanks Lulu. That is a brilliant synopsis of the situation. Seattle is “unique” in that the rest of the state is 180 degrees from it. They mayor is crazy and a pervert. It’s sort of “D.C. West”.

            Portland has those Antifa goons running amok. From what I saw they looked like high school kids.

            Liked by 2 people

            • lophatt . . . You are correct Seattle is a bastion of liberal thinkers (and voter) unfortunately, they are able to O-U-T-V-O-T-E those conservative voters in the rural portions towards the Eastern lands in Washington State . . . here in Portland, Oregon, we have exactly the same problem, Portland is laden, numerically speaking with liberal voters . . . who are able to also OUTVOTE our conservative citizens living in the rural Eastern, and Southern parts of Oregon. It is rather like we have these “rotten apples” in the congested large cities that are able to rape and plunder the citizens from rural areas with their votes! I live here in the rotten apple area of the state, and I think it is shameful that Socialism is slowly eating away at both the State of Washington, and Oregon.

              Liked by 2 people

              • Lulu, all of that is a fact. There are more subtle issues as well. I live “near” Seattle but not in it. Depending on what’s going on in my life I have to visit fairly often. We used to go there for music.

                Now it has become fairly dangerous. I grew up in a city so I’m not a country bumpkin. But in the last twenty-five years I’ve seen Seattle go from one of the safest cities to I’m not so sure.

                I’ve been in Portland many times as well. The dynamic of rural vs urban applies everywhere. This new nastiness coming from liberals is strange. They may have been “pie-in-the-sky” airheads previously, but now they think they can jam their rhetoric down our throats by force if necessary. These are not your mama’s creampuffs.

                I used to feel perfectly OK walking off the ferry at midnight to go to Pike Place and catch a musical act. Not anymore. There have been racial incidents there that would have been unheard of a decade ago. We can all thank Obongo and his crew for that.

                Liked by 1 person

                • lophatt . . . I too have seen the very change you describe. I try to not go out at night unless I am in a group. You are correct in citing the correlation between Obongo and this new phenomenon of the “Naked Jungle.”

                  Liked by 2 people

          • Auntie Lulu congrats, we don’t have any idea what goes on over there, and the same applies to all areas, when consulting the internet I believe not all is reported as is, thanks a lot.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Alma . . . I agree with you, none of us really knows what is going on in other areas of our nation, unless people who actually live there speak up. That is one reason I enjoy having Steven wade in and keep us abreast as to the goofy stuff in New York City, and State.

              Liked by 1 person

  5. Sounds worse than unions extorting fees from their hard-working members just to give them to political candidates those very same members have no desire to back, nor any say in who gets the money. Should be shot down in court as unconstitutional. But the SCotUS has gone on record as saying money=speech when they found in favor of Citizens United… IMHO, to balance the same rights enjoyed by the socialist unions supporting the left by allowing conservative corporations to support the right… such that now stare decisis dictates they continue to find such robbery & re-distribution as fair.
    If the city is so interested in helping poor people get involved in politics, why not let them WORK for those $25 vouchers? I’m sure there are public projects, garbage cleanup along roads, painting over graffiti, etc. that such folks could do to EARN their way to play just like those homeowners did…
    Kinda mirrors my feelings on property taxes; we recently saw ours DOUBLE all across the city as school districts suddenly decided (prodded by the state) to first update the existing schools (new parking lots, new whole-school power backup systems, new windows, new HVAC, new courtyards, fitness centers, sidewalks, even a new stadium and track!), then tear them all down (grade, middle, and high schools) to be replaced by one super-school for all. Yeah. All across the city and state. Costs me more than a month’s income each year to pay and there’s NO accountability; our local schools regularly rate a 4 out of 10 on academic achievement nationally. All I see is kids making noise, littering, hanging out at the shops making messes and bothering customers, and flying out of parking lots without looking for on-coming traffic. But the community was brainwashed on the ballot initiative, and voted YAY in almost every district, so I am forced to pay along (or move). That’s bullsh*t. I’m reminded of it each time I walk to the shops and see the new school equipment, kids working out in a fitness center that rivals Ballys, see their enormous backup generator, and then see my own home with dire need for a new driveway (and other repairs/upgrades), with power outages that simply leave my neighbors and I in the dark for hours, etc. But dare to not pay your property tax, and they’ll send the Sheriff out to sell your home at auction to pay the taxes and leave you homeless. I know; they threatened me once when my check simply wasn’t received on time…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Pingback: Seattle’s plan for tax-payer funded “democracy vouchers” to keep big money out of politics hasn’t kept big money out — Fellowship of the Minds – NZ Conservative Coalition

  7. A new report suggest this program is a failure: Rich, older white people are using the vouchers more than any other group, big money is still flowing into campaigns, and administrative costs for this program increased. Shocker, NOT.

    Liked by 1 person

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