The campaign for a Seattle ballot measure meant to fight big money in politics is partly bankrolled by some big-money donors.
The campaign for Seattle Initiative I-122, a measure meant to fight big money in elections, is partly bankrolled by big-money donors in New York and Washington, D.C.
Sean Eldridge, president of a New York state-based investment fund and husband of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, has contributed $200,000 to the I-122 campaign, which is called Honest Elections Seattle. Every Voice, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit with the aim of empowering everyday Americans in politics, has given about $380,000.
Washington Community Action Network (CAN), which describes itself as the state’s largest grass-roots community organization, has contributed more than $313,000.
Because Every Voice, Washington CAN and some other groups supporting the I-122 campaign aren’t political committees, they aren’t required to disclose their own donors under election law.
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Honest Elections Seattle has raised more than $1.3 million and could eclipse last year’s richest Seattle campaign, a $1.5 million push for a subsidized-preschool pilot program.
Opponents of the Nov. 3 ballot measure argue the big money behind I-122 makes its proponents hypocrites and say Honest Elections Seattle is flush because some wealthy people and groups want to use the city as a guinea pig. The voucher system that would be established by I-122 has never been tried before.
“There are obvious ironies,” said Sandeep Kaushik, political consultant and spokesman for No Election Vouchers, the campaign against I-122. “This is being funded by huge checks … and many of the funders have no connection to Seattle, no direct interest in our elections.”
Bob Mahon, a former Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission chair opposing I-122, added: “You’re decrying money in politics but pouring money into politics from outside.”
The measure’s proponents, however, say they’re proud Seattle would lead the nation by becoming the first jurisdiction to give every voter $100 in “democracy vouchers.”
They say contributions to Honest Elections Seattle are supporting a worthy cause and note that more than 30,000 voters signed a petition to put I-122 on the ballot.
“People have been interested in seeing a win on public financing (of elections), and the issue has been hard to get traction with on the national level, so of course they’re excited,” said Estevan Munoz-Howard, an Honest Elections Seattle leader.
Proponents of I-122 point out that the No Election Vouchers opposition campaign is being powered by large contributions from corporate donors, possibly because companies with city contracts and lobbyists are worried about the measure barring them from contributing to candidates.
Funders include Microsoft ($10,000), Vulcan ($10,000), real-estate and data-center company Sabey Corporation ($10,000), Puget Sound Energy ($2,500) and real-estate company Wright Runstad Associates ($2,500).
Munoz-Howard says No Election Vouchers has less support from ordinary voters than Honest Elections Seattle.
“I would love to see them get one $25 donation, because that’s not going to happen,” he said. “They’re not talking to people at that level.”
The I-122 campaign has received 55 contributions of $25 or less. No Election Vouchers has reported receiving just one donation of $25 or less, for $1.
Munoz-Howard, an elections-reform activist who has lived in Seattle since 2007, notes that I-122 is backed by groups like El Centro de la Raza, a Seattle-based Latino civil-rights organization, and Washington Bus, a political-advocacy organization for young people.
“To call Seattle a guinea pig would imply other people are making the decisions,” he said. “We started working on this years ago, and as our effort grew we brought more people into the room and realized there was an innovative path we could take.”