Washington, D.C.

Lawsuit Calls Seattle's "Democracy Vouchers" Compelled Speech and a First Amendment Violation

Being forced to fund the campaigns of candidates you disagree with is just wrong.

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voting sign
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Seattle homeowners are tired of being forced to contribute tax dollars to candidates they do not support, some of whom campaign to further restrict their property rights.

A Pacific Legal Foundation lawsuit challenges Seattle's Democracy Voucher program, which has so far dispensed $233,175 in special tax contributions to fund vouchers of up to $100 for city voters to contribute to their favorite local political candidates.

"When you are forced to give a certain amount of money to someone who then uses it to contribute it to a candidate," Ethan Blevins, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, says, "that's compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment."

Blevins is representing Mark Elster, a Seattle homeowner and self-described "robust supporter of free markets," who objects to being made to underwrite any part of a campaign for candidates, none of whom warrant his support.

So far, the voucher program isn't quite as democratic as envisioned by its progressive sponsors. More than half of the total amount of contributions has gone to Jon Grant, a candidate for an open city council seat and someone who could charitably be described as left-of-center.

A former head of the Washington Tenants Union, Grant has endorsed a range of left-wing housing policies including rent control, mandating affordable housing units in new developments, caps on move-in fees, and giving collective bargaining privileges to tenants.

His opponent, Teresa Mosqueda, and the incumbent candidate for city attorney, Pete Holmes, are the only other candidates who have met the eligibility requirements for the vouchers.

Grant is a strong proponent of Democracy Vouchers, having received 93 percent of all his campaign donations from the program. Prior to the program, "only 1.5 percent of Seattleites donated to a local campaign. This lawsuit clearly demonstrates that the Pacific Legal Foundation is only interested in protecting the interests of the 1%," Grant wrote in a blogpost on his campaign website.

A good deal of his field outreach has been directed at getting homeless people to sign up for the vouchers, and then give that money to him, a practice his campaign manager assures Seattle Weekly is not "exploiting the homeless."

Grant has called the Foundation lawsuit "anti-democratic" and "desperate."

The voucher program, Blevins said, has allowed Grant to do something remarkable. He has "pretty much drawn all his campaign money from a constituency that is inherently opposed to his positions," Blevins said.

Few of the 410,000 registered voters in Seattle can make use of the Democracy Voucher program, even if there were candidates they wanted to support. The tax dollars that fund the vouchers is first come first serve, and not nearly enough is collected each year to ensure that each Seattleite gets a chance to participate.

The funding is capped at $3 million a year, meaning 30,000 or 7 percent of eligible Seattle voters are allowed to make campaign contributions in an election year. As the Seattle Times noted when it editorialized against the 2015 ballot initiative that created Democracy Vouchers, "the proposal counts on people not participating."

In this first election since the program launched, it remains to be seen whether Grant's manipulation of it will be followed by other candidates. The City Council designed the program for a review after 10 years.

Blevins hopes the court recognizing the vouchers for the constitutional abominations they are will end the program years before a review.

"When you are forced to become an unwilling vessel for a message you disagree with," Blevins says, "that violates human dignity and it certainly violates the First Amendment."

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23 responses to “Lawsuit Calls Seattle's "Democracy Vouchers" Compelled Speech and a First Amendment Violation

  1. Enjoying eating popcorn and watching Seattle burn…

    1. Ain’t gonna happen so long as those sweet, sweet tech dollars keep flowing in. Amazon hiring 4 bajillion people will allow the city and the state to endure dumbass moves that would bankrupt a lot of other places. It will burn in the same way that San Fran is “burning” – in other words, the middle class chased away and the city consisting of well-heeled techies and the homeless.

      1. The US needs to become very inhospitable to communist trash. Like in the old days.

      2. Well, apparently even tech workers are finding it too expensive to live there:

        http://www.foxnews.com/tech/20…..cisco.html

        There was a more formal survey that showed this on a larger scale as well, but you shouldn’t believe me because I can’t find it to link to.

      3. One could’ve said the same thing about Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh 60 years ago. Those cities also enjoyed the privilege of being able to overregulate the local economy due to regional monopolies on major industries, until, over time other, countries industrialized or rebuilt from the war (or other regions of the US, like the south, industrialized) and began to compete with them for auto, steel, etc. manufacturing.

        The same thing will happen with the Bay Area and Seattle; as advanced technological skills diffuse and become more common in the general population, the strategic advantage of these cities conferred by their skilled labor markets will decline relative to other cites (i.e., the fraction of programmers and developers with a given skill that live in the Bay Area will decline precipitously as tech-related skills become more common), and it will become more and more tempting for firms to operate in Houston or Atlanta at a much lower cost.

        Of course those cities have the advantage of the Pacific Ocean and tourism, but those may not save them from a rust belt style collapse.

  2. Seattle homeowners are tired of being forced to contribute tax dollars to candidates they do not support, some of whom campaign to further restrict their property rights.

    Good luck. “U.S. taxpayers are tired of being forced to contribute tax dollars to projects they do not support, some of which restrict their rights.”

  3. Good to know that liberals believe that not all voucher programs are created equal

  4. Jon Grant, a candidate for an open city council seat and someone who could charitably be described as left-of-center.

    So, full-blown communist?

      1. His big plan to make housing affordable is to tax corporations more and to mandate that 25% of all new buildings meet affordability requirements. As far as I can tell, he intends those requirements be defined by a committee made for any new construction project that wishes to happen.

        1. If so, then adios small business.

        2. …and call it the Cordlandt housing project

  5. A good deal of [Grant’s] field outreach has been directed at getting homeless people to sign up for the vouchers, and then give that money to him, a practice his campaign manager assures Seattle Weekly is not “exploiting the homeless.”

    “Why, those bums are too wasted to know WTF is going on!”

    1. The fuckers probably aren’t even giving the homeless a bottle of Thunderbird.

  6. Lmao.

  7. We will find out if Grant is left of center; if he is, he will turn his campaign offices over to the homeless because he want to save the children. If he is a money grubbing commie bastard, he will keep all the money and whine that there wasn’t more.

    1. He’s a progressive, so it’s the latter.

      I know it isn’t very libertarian, but I wouldn’t shed a single tear if Trump put Seattle under martial law. Bunch of commie trash there. Fucking up my state at every goddamn turn.

  8. at least bumfights gave them some booze. oh wait, Grant probably does that too.

  9. Exact same in Austin. Middle working class drive 1 hour into City where homeless, techies and liberal politicians thrive with shit schools, huge property taxes and “fees” – keep it weird Austin!

  10. Oh and City streets are being converted into 100? bike and pedi-cab Lanes ~ groovy

  11. “So far, the voucher program isn’t quite as democratic as envisioned by its progressive sponsors.”

    No, I’m pretty sure it’s turning out exactly as they envisioned it.

  12. “that’s compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment.”

    Content neutral. Much more so than the ocean of apparatchik controlled speech your are forced to fund.

    Dumb lawsuit.

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