Under the program, the city raises $3 million in property taxes annually. Each election cycle, voters receive four $25 vouchers that they can sign over to candidates who abide by certain rules.
Washington’s highest court will review a case against Seattle’s first-in-the-nation “democracy vouchers” program, which allows residents to contribute taxpayer funds to political candidates.
Under the program approved at the ballot in 2015 and first used in 2017, the city raises $3 million in property taxes annually. Each election cycle, voters receive four $25 vouchers that they can sign over to candidates who abide by certain rules.
Proponents say the vouchers counter big money in politics by involving people who otherwise wouldn’t donate and by helping lesser-known candidates compete. Seattle residents spent $1.14 million in vouchers last year.
But two local property owners brought a lawsuit against the city last year, claiming the vouchers system was violating their constitutional rights to free speech by forcing them — through their tax dollars — to support candidates they didn’t like.
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Represented by the libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation, they lost in King County Superior Court when a judge there ruled that Seattle’s aim to increase participation in the political process was a reasonable justification for the system.
Ethan Blevins, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, hailed the decision. Blevins said the courts “recognize that this case poses important First Amendment concerns.”
City Attorney Pete Holmes isn’t taking part in the case because he used democracy vouchers in his 2017 re-election campaign, City Attorney’s Office spokesman Dan Nolte said. Assistant City Attorney Mike Ryan will argue the case.
“We look forward to defending this voter-approved program before our state’s high court,” Nolte said in a statement.
The Supreme Court already is taking a look at another battle between Seattle and the Pacific Legal Foundation. The court agreed to review a lawsuit against the city’s first-come, first-served law for rental-housing applicants earlier this year, after a King County judge ruled for the plaintiffs in the case and the city appealed.