SEATTLE -- A new initiative aims to change the way Seattle elections are run and won. I-122 proposes a number of campaign finance reforms, from further reducing limits on campaign contributions to the introduction of "democracy vouchers" for registered voters.
According to the measure, each voter would receive four $25 vouchers to donate to the candidates of their choice. The organizers backing the initiative believe the vouchers will encourage candidates to spend time with "ordinary" voters, not just big donors.
"We really truly believe with democracy vouchers, a lot of folks across the city who never imagined or considered donating to a campaign before will all of a sudden have a tool they can use," said Chris Genese of Washington Community Action Network, one of the groups backing the measure.
The funding for the democracy vouchers would come from a small property tax levy of 1.94 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. Supporters believe that would raise the $3 million needed for the plan, based on past campaign contribution data.
Seattle candidates could chose either to participate in the democracy voucher program or run the traditional route. However, campaign contributions would be lowered for all city races. Candidates could also still receive minimal private contributions. However, the measure would impose limits on corporations who lobby the city.
"I'm very open to the idea of public financing of elections, but this is a whole different kettle of fish," said Sandeep Kaushik, a Seattle-based political consultant. He and other elections operatives launched a campaign of their own: "No on Election Vouchers."
"It's a completely untried, untested model of doing public financing," said Kaushik. "The potential for abuse is really off the charts."
"The potential for (vouchers) to be sold or traded or having organizations collect up large numbers of them, that they can then use to make big contributions to particular candidate actually increasing the influence of special interests is really off the charts."
Supporters counter that they have tried to make the initiative "fraud proof" and have increased measures for transparency, as well as fines and penalties for election law violations.
"We spent a lot of time thinking about ways to make initiative 122 absolutely fraud proof," said Genese.
Ultimately, voters will decide the fate of I-22. The Seattle City Council passed a resolution 8-1 on Monday to put the measure on the November ballot. Organizers had earlier collected the needed 32,000 signatures to move the initiative forward.