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A Seattle Initiative Tries To Take Big Money Out Of Local Elections

Associate Press


Backers of Seattle voter initiative I-122 want political candidates to start knocking on the doors of regular people to raise money instead of relying on big donors and special interest groups.

What Initiative 122 would do has never been tried before. Registered voters would get four vouchers, each worth $25. They would be able to give that money directly to their candidate or candidates of choice. The goal is to encourage candidates to spend more time meeting with voters.

“And the way to do that is to make the voters the donor class in the city by giving them all vouchers," said Sightline Institute's Alan Durning, who helped write the measure.

"So candidates would then organize their entire campaign to be in contact with voters to the maximum about of time as possible: House parties, forums, community events and just going door to door to meet as many voters as they can and collect their vouchers,” said Durning, the executive director of the policy research non-profit.

The money for the vouchers would come from a property tax increase that would cost the owner of a $450,000 home $8 dollars a year. The levy would raise $3,000,000 each year.

To be able to collect these checks, called Democracy Vouchers, candidates would have to commit to capping their campaign spending. For mayoral candidates the limit would be $800,000. For city council district seats it would be $150,000. At large city council races would be allowed to spend $300,000.

“The candidates would have to agree to limit their total spending to take only very small money contributions, to have no coordination with independent spenders and to increase the level of transparency of their campaigns,” says Durning. “And if they agree to those terms then they can fund their campaign, partly or wholly with Democracy Vouchers.”

The initiative’s supporters have handed in more than 30,000 signatures and are confident it will be on the November ballot.


Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.