Seattle will become the first place in the U.S. to try taxpayer-funded “democracy vouchers.”

Share story

The way candidates’ campaigns are financed in Seattle dramatically changed Tuesday night.

Initiative 122 took a 20 percentage-point lead in first-day returns, which makes Seattle the nation’s first jurisdiction to try taxpayer-funded “democracy vouchers.”

“Seattle leads the nation, first on $15 an hour and now on campaign-finance reform. We look forward to seeing more cities and states implementing their own local solutions to the problem of big money in politics,” said Heather Weiner, I-122 spokeswoman.

It was a campaign steeped in irony.

Arguing that big money corrupts local politics, advocates for I-122 raised $1.384 million — nearly a record amount — and 30 times what their opponents mustered.

Their “Honest Elections” campaign collected 52 percent of its money from outside Seattle. The average contribution to “Honest Elections” was $7,134 — compared with $166 in this year’s City Council clash between Kshama Sawant and Pamela Banks, the most expensive in city history.

Weiner said more than 100 volunteers celebrated the results at I-122’s election-night party: “This is very much a local campaign that got national attention.”

“Honest Elections” faced the challenge of convincing Seattle voters they should pay $30 million in property taxes over the next 10 years for the voucher experiment — or about $9 per year for a $450,000 property. A campaign for publicly financed elections in Seattle narrowly lost in 2013.

I-122 supporters said that financing of Seattle elections is dominated by a wealthy elite, with half of the contributions to 2013 candidates from just 1,686 donors.

The initiative will work like this: For each city election cycle, or every two years, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) will mail four $25 vouchers to each voter. They can only be used in Seattle campaigns for mayor, city council and city attorney.

Voters will assign the vouchers by signing and mailing them to candidates or to the SEEC, or by submitting them online.

The SEEC will release money to the candidates that agree to follow I-122’s rules, which include participating in three debates and accepting lower contribution and spending limits.

Component post 9810793 could not be found.

I-122’s rules will prohibit candidates from receiving contributions from any person or company with at least $250,000 in city contracts or $5,000 in lobbying expenses. It also will bar elected officials, and their top aides, from lobbying the city for three years after leaving their City Hall jobs.


Public election campaign financing
Yes 60%
No 40%
Results as of 8:15 p.m. Tuesday