An influx of cash from out-of-state donors to fund Seattle Initiative 122 contradicts the purpose of the initiative: to limit big money in local elections.
POLITICAL power should rest in the hands of regular voters, not well-moneyed special interests. So say proponents of Seattle’s Initiative 122, a proposal to publicly finance city and mayoral elections.
The campaign, however, belies that claim. Voters should reject it.
The I-122 campaign has raised a whopping $869,134 of which $498,668, or 57 percent, came from deep-pocketed organizations and wealthy donors from out of state. It’s the most heavily financed race on this year’s ballot in Seattle.
Among the top donors include:
• Sean Eldridge of Hudson River Ventures of Shokan, N.Y., who donated $200,000: Eldridge is a venture capitalist and political activist who is married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.
• Every Voice, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., gave $211,168.
• Amalgamated Bank of New York gave $50,000.
• Represent.us, a political advocacy group based in Florence, Mass., pitched in $27,500.
What’s troubling is not so much who these big donors are as much as their strategy of pumping a lot of money into an initiative that aims to limit “big money” in local elections.
The initiative would give all registered voters $100 worth of taxpayer-funded vouchers to donate to the City Council or mayoral candidate of their choice. But the program budgets enough money for only up to 13 percent of those vouchers, meaning the vast majority would be worthless.
The vouchers would hit mailboxes in January, giving candidates who organize early the most benefit. Existing political machines would be the first to pounce and scoop up whatever vouchers were available, reinforcing incumbents.
I-122 wouldn’t do much to clamp down on large contributions from outside groups — because it can’t. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling affirmed that campaign donations from independent organizations are protected as free speech.
Backers say a publicly financed campaign system could, however, indirectly reduce the influence of organizations by limiting campaign spending. But the initiative contains a loophole that would allow some candidates who opt in to redeem vouchers and raise unlimited private money.
Seattle isn’t a city where corporate donors dominate local elections. As Seattle Times metro columnist Danny Westneat pointed out recently, the top fundraiser in this year’s City Council race is a socialist — Kshama Sawant.
Voters should not be swayed by I-122’s disingenuous catchphrase “honest elections.” The initiative resembles a textbook example of outside contributors and organizations using big money in an attempt to puppeteer local government.
What’s most shocking is that the core message of the I-122 campaign asserts that type of intervention is bad for local politics.
Vote as I say, not as I do? No thank you, I-122.