'Democracy credits' initiative in the works

Seattle voters approved “democracy vouchers” last November. Can a similar idea go statewide?

Seattle voters approved “democracy vouchers” last November. Can a similar idea go statewide?

Signature gathering has begun for a new initiative that aims to bolster campaign finance laws and give voters up to $150 worth of “democracy credits” to be used in state legislative races, every two years.

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“There is universal agreement that our politics should be as transparent and accountable as possible,” said Peter McCollum, campaign manager for I-1464. “The Washington Government Accountability Act.”

“No matter what side of the aisle you're on, I think everybody would love to spend more time engaging voters and constituents and representing them and less time focusing on big donors,” said McCollum.

The initiative proposes repealing the non-resident sales tax exemption to generate $60 million per biennium. The majority would fund the “democracy credits;” $10 million would go to the Public Disclosure Commission to increase enforcement of campaign finance laws.

The measure also seeks to expand disclosure requirements and tighten restrictions on lobbyists, including their ability to contribute to campaigns. It would also force a three-year “cooling off period” before an elected official could become a paid lobbyist.

“Both political parties are concerned essentially about the influence of dark money. Each side is maybe more concerned with the dark money that helps the other side out, but both sides are concerned about it,” said Republican political consultant Alex Hays, a co-sponsor of the initiative.

Critics, who voiced concerns last year about Seattle’s “Honest Elections” initiative, worry the plan is too experimental and could easily be manipulated.

“It actually increases the power of special interests, incentivizes less regulated Independent Expenditure campaigns, and vastly expands the opportunities for corruption in Washington State elections, all while costing the state's taxpayers tens of millions that would be better spent on more important public priorities,” said Sandeep Kaushik, a political consultant who ran the campaign against Honest Elections last fall.

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Kaushik told KING 5 it's not yet known whether an opposition campaign will be launched against I-1464.

“This initiative is not the test they think it is. I think it’s a very well proven program,” countered McCollum. “There’s going to be a great risk with anything, but this is a great package. The direction we should want to go.”

Sponsors also point to the wide-ranging bi-partisan support of the new initiative, from The League of Women’s Voters to the former co-chair of the Seattle Tea Party Patriots.

“It’s going to transform how we do elections in Washington state in a way that brings more focus back on the little guy—that’s healthy for everyone,” said Hays.

Sponsors have until July to collect the nearly 250,000 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot.

Already, the initiative has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations, largely from East Coast-based groups, “Every Voice” and “Represent Us.”

Related: I-1464 Integrity Washington website