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 —
- Candidates: ‘Who runs Seattle?’ — Sawant bracing for million dollar battle for District 3 / In race for District 3, Bowers puts housing first / Nguyen makes run for District 3 with focus beyond Capitol Hill / What will it take for Orion to outrace Sawant in D3? Business, bravery, and ‘a queer voice on council again’ / Can DeWolf win District 3 running against ‘homelessness, rising housing costs, anti-worker values, regressive taxes’ — and not Sawant?
- Issues: 15 things CHS heard at the 43rd District Dems D3 forum / With District 3 candidates forum season underway, Speak Out Seattle leads with homelessness, displacement in the Central District, and gun violence / D3 candidates talk homelessness, small biz, and ‘a Green New Deal for ordinary working people’ with some of their youngest constituents
- Endorsements: Speak Out Seattle’s pick in District 3: neighborhood activist Murakami / Seattle Times backs Orion, Cary Moon says ‘We NEED Kshama’ / Seattle educators give passing grades to two District 3 candidates — but not the one with a seat on the School Board / This District 3 candidate just won big-time Seattle labor support / No endorsement: Sawant, challengers fail to shine as District 3 candidates make lackluster showing in 43rd Dems endorsements vote
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:
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