Seattle’s first publicly financed election season kicks off in January

No, Kshama Sawant will not be on Seattle's democracy vouchers -- but she might benefit from them in 2019

No, Kshama Sawant will not be on Seattle’s democracy vouchers — but she might benefit from them in 2019

In less than a week, the 2016 election season will, mercifully, end. So it’s on to 2017, featuring races for Seattle mayor and the two at-large City Council seats. The election will also be the first to utilize Seattle’s groundbreaking campaign finance law.

Last year Seattle voters approved the Democracy Voucher Program, a first-of-its-kind local election law that enacted a property tax levy to fund a voluntary public financing system of giving eligible residents four $25 “democracy vouchers” that they can then give to candidates.

Vouchers are scheduled to be mailed out during the first week of January. Voters can immediately start giving the vouchers to qualifying campaigns for the November election.

On Wednesday, the Seattle Ethics and Election Commission will be discussing and possibly voting on a handful of rules to implement in the program. Among the proposals are clarifications to how campaigns must re-pay unspent voucher funds if a candidate drops out or doesn’t complete the race. You can also provide feedback on the program via email — democracyvoucher@seattle.gov.

In 2017, the two City Council seats and the City Attorney will be the only two elections eligible for democracy vouchers. The mayoral race will not be eligible for the program until 2021 as the voucher fundraising limits are higher and the program needs more time to accumulate funds.

  • Mayor: $400,000 for the primary, and $800,000 total
  • At-large City Council: $150,000 for the primary election, and $300,000 total
  • District City Council: $75,000 for the primary election and $150,000 total

In last year’s District 3 race, Kshama Sawant raised over $400,000 with Pamela Banks not far behind.

The voucher program reduces the maximum individual campaign contribution from $700 to $500.

The democracy voucher program includes several other candidate requirements:

  • Candidate shall take part in at least three public debates for primary and general elections each (as defined by SEEC)
  • The candidate shall not knowingly solicit money for or on behalf of any political action committee, political party, or any organization that will make an independent expenditure for or against any City of Seattle candidate within the same election cycle(appearing as a featured speaker at a fundraising event for a committee or entity shall constitute soliciting money for such committee or entity).
  • A candidate for Mayor shall not solicit or accept total contributions from any individual or entity in excess of a total of $500 during one election cycle, and a candidate for City Attorney or City Council shall not solicit or accept total contributions from any individual or entity in excess of a total of $250 during one election cycle
  • Registered voters will get their vouchers by mail. Non-registered voters who are 18 or older and residents of Seattle can still participate, but need to apply with the SEEC.

Supporters of the initiative are hoping it will level the playing field and force candidates to spend more time soliciting campaign donations from a wider pool of voters. Opponents of I-122, which included two former SEEC chairs, previously raised concerns that the measure would allow candidates to take democracy vouchers while benefiting from an unlimited amount of money through political action committees.

Democracy voucher proposed rules

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