While proponents of I-122 decry money’s influence in politics, they don’t tell voters that wealthy donors and special-interest groups are funding their campaign.
AS former Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission chairs, we understand how Seattle elections work. After carefully studying Initiative 122, we’ve concluded that it is the wrong approach to campaign-finance reform for our city.
The measure rewrites our election laws by increasing property taxes to distribute four $25 “democracy vouchers” to every registered voter. Voters are then supposed to donate these vouchers to candidates. But I-122 is untested — no jurisdiction anywhere has implemented this system — and it is so convoluted that it creates a host of unintended consequences, introducing new loopholes that are ripe for abuse by special interests.
This measure introduces opportunities for corruption into Seattle elections. Distributing millions of paper democracy vouchers creates a system wherein unscrupulous people could inevitably sell vouchers under the table to campaigns. And I-122 actually increases the grip of special interests. Well-funded interests would direct their members and supporters how to spend their vouchers, steering hundreds of thousands of dollars to favored candidates, so politicians would have to defer to these interests even more than they do now.
I-122 supposedly includes campaign spending limits, but it’s so poorly written that candidates are allowed to raise the full amount of vouchers but then opt out of the limits if an independent expenditure campaign enters the race. This means candidates can double dip, taking taxpayer-funded vouchers while also raising unlimited additional campaign cash.
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I-122 hands out $41.5 million in vouchers for each election, but funds less than $3 million of vouchers per year on a first-come, first-served basis — so in any election, only a tiny fraction of voters can have their vouchers redeemed. Candidates who announce early or are backed by well-organized special interest groups will be able to monopolize the voucher money, so established incumbents will have an even greater advantage over first-time candidates.
Moreover, a large slice of that $3 million will be diverted to pay for exorbitant administrative costs of the clunky, bureaucratic system I-122 creates. In fact, according to the proponents’ own estimates, taxpayers would pay $28 in administrative costs for every $100 issued in vouchers.
Seattle already has one of the lowest campaign contribution limits in the country. Lowering it even further, as I-122 proposes, doesn’t get money out of politics. What it does is push more money into less transparent and less accountable special-interest, independent expenditure campaigns, which I-122 would do nothing to limit.
Our city has many serious challenges to deal with from affordable housing to transportation. Raising property taxes to fund political campaigns when the city has so many other pressing priorities doesn’t make sense.
While proponents of I-122 decry money’s influence in politics, they don’t tell voters that wealthy donors and special-interest groups are funding their campaign. This campaign isn’t about the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. It isn’t about honest elections either. It’s about a deeply flawed democracy voucher system that increases the power of special interests, creates loopholes that are ripe for abuse, and pushes money into less transparent and less accountable independent expenditure campaigns.
Please join us in voting no on Initiative 122.