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In Seattle’s most expensive race, District 3 challengers powered by Democracy Vouchers

DeWolf and other challengers in D3 are holding gatherings to collect more support like this “a #DemocracyVoucher / Candidate Meet & Greet” gathering at a home on Capitol Hill (Image: Elect DeWolf)

On a long, wood table at Optimism Brewing Company Thursday night sat a makeshift box decked out in pamphlets talking about Zachary DeWolf and his campaign’s purple stickers, which were also being worn by many of the few dozen supporters that ranged from union members from Teamsters 174 and Ironworkers Local 86 to sitting at-large council members Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena González .

“Put your Democracy Vouchers right in here,” Mosqueda implored, holding up the box.

As attendees sipped beers and ate appetizers, González called out the only candidate in the District 3 race not taking part in the Democracy Voucher program: Council member Kshama Sawant .

“Zachary is going to be accountable to this community in this room and in this district,” González said. “You know who he is going to take his words from? It’s not going to be a committee in New York I can tell you that much.”

“The Democracy Voucher program is a beautiful thing,” she added of the measure held up as constitutional by the Washington State Supreme Court (PDF) earlier in the day after being approved by voters at the ballot in 2015.

In the city’s most expensive city council race where loads of PAC cash are coming into play, the Democracy Vouchers are living up to the ultimate test, powering the D3 challengers and creating even stronger reasons for the candidates to get out into the community and meet constituents.

Election 2019: More about the candidates and their positions —

They are not for everyone, however. Incumbent Sawant has said she supports the “progressive” program but is not participating because her campaign believes the fundraising limits that are part of the program are too limiting in the face of major spending on behalf of her opponents. Sawant said the core of her decision to forego the Democracy Voucher program is her campaign’s concerns about spending caps in a race where the pool of spending to oppose her has grown after Amazon spent an “eye-popping $350,000 in 2017 to buy their mayor Jenny Durkan.”

The program, first used in 2017, is funded by $3 million in annual property taxes raised by the city, which allow each voter to receive four $25 vouchers each election cycle that they can sign over to any qualifying candidate in Seattle to help fund their campaigns.

With the ballots being sent out for the August 6 top-two primary in less than a week, candidates are making their last ditch efforts to push themselves into the general election and keep their coffers healthy for another few months of intense campaigning, making Democracy Vouchers increasingly important even amid hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from either, in the case of Broadway Business Improvement Area head Egan Orion , the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce or, in the case of Sawant , the nationwide Socialist Alternative political apparatus.

As of July 10, just 23% of Sawant’s nearly $210,000 in campaign contributions have come from District 3 while nearly half comes from outside Seattle city limits, according to Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission data.

The fundraising cap for all the other candidates was lifted in April after Sawant’s contributions exceeded $75,000.

DeWolf, a Seattle Public Schools Board member, has received 1,710 vouchers since joining the race in April, totaling $42,750 , as of Thursday. He said, however, that he expects to reach $75,000 in vouchers shortly.

Despite earning several major endorsements, including from unions that had previously supported Sawant and the recent backing from the Seattle/King County Building & Construction Trades Council as well as Fuse Washington’s Progressive Voters Guide , DeWolf is trailed only by Orion in voucher contributions. The Pridefest executive director has earned $37,375 from vouchers, but recently had more than $100,000 spent on his behalf by the Chamber’s political action committee.

When asked if Democracy Vouchers are still important fundraising tools in this race given the injection of big money, Orion texted “Yes!”

“They help candidates new to politics like me to be able to make the case to voters in person and get resources for the campaign one voter at a time,” he added. “Democracy Vouchers help to keep politics local.”

Public defender Ami Nguyen narrowly edges out Pat Murakami for the most voucher money received, earning $57,100 compared to the neighborhood activist’s $54,750.

“Vouchers have the potential to give folks without all the political connections an even chance at winning an election,” Murakami said in an email. “This is vital because sometimes the folks with all the political connections are the worst possible choice for the position.”

Nguyen thinks that while money plays a role in the race and democracy vouchers are incredibly important to candidacies like her’s, cash “can only go so far.”

“I trust that our savvy (and frustrated) Seattle voters and local media will see past the gimmicks to vote for candidates who they believe will be able to work together and move our city forward on the most important issues, including the homelessness crisis, safe transportation infrastructure and green energy,” Nguyen said in an email, responding to news of the chamber’s hefty contributions.

Pot store entrepreneur and vocal housing development proponent Logan Bowers , meanwhile has received 1,832 vouchers, combining for $45,800 in campaign contributions.

“Democracy Vouchers make a constituent-centric candidacy like mine viable and I think money or not, voters are going to show us this election cycle that they’re done with special interests,” Bowers said, contacted through Twitter.

UPDATE: Each candidate also has thousands of dollars in vouchers waiting for them if they make the general election, as the numbers above are for vouchers redeemed for the August 6 primary. DeWolf has returned an extra $11,295 in vouchers, Orion $10,400, Nguyen $24,375, Murakami $15,600, and Bowers has the most waiting for him with a whopping $42,350 in potential vouchers that will open up if he qualifies for the general election.

Still have your vouchers? Here is how to put them to use:

You’ve got Seattle Democracy Vouchers, here’s how to use them

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16 thoughts on “In Seattle’s most expensive race, District 3 challengers powered by Democracy Vouchers” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. I think you should be clear that this is an endorsement for DeWolf, not just a news article. That is fine. Just don’t pretend that it is a purely news article. For instance, you cite the percentage amounts raised in Seattle etc and fail to mention how many donations each candidate has from D3 and who leads there. Of course, it would make sense that some who have raised the most would have the greatest number of contributors from D3. Your article as lead up to the election seems to feature on candidate in pictures and lead in to story. It contains some interesting facts, However, I would encourage all to look at for all the facts.

    • DeWolf has the second LEAST vouchers (above only biz-sponsored Orion). How’s he the face of dem vouchers when he’s pretty clearly behind in public support?

      Bowers, on the other hand, has OVER $88,000 vouchers assigned to him, yet this is (literally) relegated to a footnote. Holding that many assigned vouchers shows that he has broad public support and tens of thousands of funding ready to deploy against Sawant in the general.

      I want to see a story about the candidates’ readiness for the general.

  2. I want to add that statistics can be misleading. If a candidate for instance had only $100 in donations and $100 came from Seattle or D3 or whatever the percentage from D3 would be very high. If there is only one person donation $100.00 then the number of donors and amount of support in D3 is likely low.

  3. Sawant doesn’t like vouchers because they would prevent her from taking advantage of all of that out of state money at well over $250 a pop. The party is running a national campaign for one city council seat. People from out of state matter more than D3 voters. Please make her come in THIRD.

  4. My tax dollars are being spent on candidates I will not support. They are all loons. Not one gets how to help run a city. D3 is pretty pathetic.

  5. For an article purportedly about the importance of Democracy Vouchers, the amount written of Orion & DeWolf is weird. At the foot of the article, you mention how much everyone else has raised, and thsoe two have raised the least (of the candidates participating). Why isn’t more attention being given to how much they’ve earned? And maybe a bit more than a single half-sentence about how Orion has picked up over $100k from CASE.

  6. “‘Zachary is going to be accountable to this community in this room and in this district,’ González said.”

    His position on the school board isn’t important enough for accountability, it seems; he’s been saving up his accountability for better things.

  7. I am disappointed in Capitol Hill Blog for the reporting on this as a story. Usually you seem to take some precautions to distinguish between promoting a candidate or issue and reporting facts. As I said earlier, this does not seem to be a news story, but an endorsement of a candidate.

    • We think the impact of Democracy Vouchers in the race is important to cover. DeWolf got extra attention in this one because he held an event last week that we covered as part of reporting on this and the image from his campaign, I felt, showed an example of the kinds of gatherings the voucher program is encouraging. But the intention wasn’t to focus on any one candidate and I disagree with you that this piece is overly slanted in favor of any of them.

  8. Sawant’s assertion that Jenny Durkan’s election was “bought” by Amazon is totally laughable…..just more boiler-plate, far left rhetoric. Mayor Durkan is a strong woman and I don’t think she can be bought by anyone.

    I suppose it’s too much to hope for that Sawant will not get past the primary, but I think it is quite likely she will not be re-elected.

  9. It’s interesting that Mosqueda and Gonzalez are oblivious to the abysmally low opinion the public has of the SCC. If they had any sense, they’d endorse opponents, not the one they want to recruit onto the SCC to support their work of Re-engineering Society.

  10. It’s a more than fair criticism to level at Sawant regarding her relationship to SA and refusal to use the democracy voucher program. It’s still ridiculous to characterize her as not being concerned about the people in our community and their interests, or not being accountable to them. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that every other year there is some type of opportunity where her constituency has the chance to end her tenure if we feel we haven’t had our interests represented.

    Or is it just that you consider a democratic election less valid than “voting” with evenly distributed vouchers and extremely disproportionately distributed personal wealth?

  11. I’m having trouble figuring out how much weight to put on the democracy vouchers in terms of the popularity of a candidate. I just want to know who has the best chance of beating Sawant? She’s been in office way too long.