Seattle's 'Democracy Vouchers' Serve as Campaign Welfare for Well-Established Candidates

A program intended to empower voters has instead funneled public money to most organized and funded campaigns.


A voting box

Seattle's Democracy Vouchers were supposed to break the hold of special interests on elections and open up the field to outsider candidates.

Instead the program—which awards Seattle voters a total of $100 that they can donate to qualified local candidates—almost all of the 315,000 tax dollars raised prior to the city's primary election Tuesday have gone to only three candidates, one and incumbent and two politically connected activists.

Regardless of the results of the election, the city of Seattle, as Reason has previously reported is being sued by the Pacific Legal Foundation for promoting a program the foundation says violates the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The first candidate to qualify for democracy vouchers was incumbent candidate for City Attorney, Pete Holmes, who has so far received $46,050.

City Council Position 8 candidate John Grant, a past president of the Washington Tenants Union, has collected the most money, $150,000 so far. Grant, who's making his second run for at the seat, was the first to register his campaign committee on December 8, 2016, nearly two months ahead of any other candidate.

Teresa Mosqueda, the Political and Strategic Campaign Director for the Washington State Labor Council (the state's AFL-CIO), has pulled in $104,725, as well as garnering endorsements from influential interest groups like Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, and a several unions.

Evan Blevins, attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, says it's hardly a surprise the benefits of Democracy Douchers accrue almost exclusively to well-practiced political operatives.

"To receive [the vouchers] you have to leap several hurdles with the Seattle Ethical Elections Commission", he says, including participation in debates and receiving the contributions and signatures from 400 voters.

Rathering than parceling out the four $25 vouchers, Seattle sends all of them out on Jan. 1, encouraging voters to spend their vouchers all at once on the candidates first to the trough.

"It's going to the people they know, who already have campaigns active," Blevins tells Reason. "That's going to be incumbents or well-funded candidates."

In total, $78,000 in Democracy Vouchers were assigned by voters to candidates who never received permission to spend that money. Upstart candidates in the Position 8 race have paid a price.

Hisam Goueli, doctor and political neophyte, did not officially register his campaign until February, and according to the rules, didn't qualify for $14,650 pledged to him until this past Friday, four days before the primary.

"Instead of getting my message out, I'm trying to get Democracy Vouchers," Goueli told the Seattle Times, which is exactly the opposite way the program is supposed to work.

Likewise, council candidate and civil rights activist Sheley Secrest, was pledged $14,350 in Democracy Vouchers, but failed to meet the qualifications to access that money.

Taxing citizens to pay for campaign donations, and then making those donations available only to a selective number of political candidates certainly violates the spirit in which Seattle's Democracy Vouchers were sold to voters. According to Blevins, it likely violates the Constitution as well.

"When you are forced to give a certain amount of money to someone who then uses it to contribute it to a candidate, that's compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment," he says.

That lawsuit, filed in June, is still a long way from resolution.

Seattleites will go to the polls Tuesday, many of them not realizing the questionable program they have underwritten isn't helping any of those dark horses on the ballot.

NEXT: A.M. Links: Trump and Russia, Joe Arpaio Found Guilty, Venezuelan Regime Arrests Opposition Leaders

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  1. Not too suprising. Seems like people are using the vouchers just like they use their votes. Gotta support the team. And every election is the most important election ever and your opponents are exactly like Hitler, so you can’t waste your vote (or your voucher) on some outsider with a slim chance of winning.

  2. Democracy Douchers

    Would be a better name for the program.

    1. They had that as an apparent mis-print in the article!!! Or was it a Freudian slip???

      “Evan Blevins, attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, says it’s hardly a surprise the benefits of Democracy Douchers accrue almost exclusively to well-practiced political operatives.”

    2. Provided by the Ministry of Truth.

    3. It’s on the internet, must be truth.

  3. If the point was to take power away from special interests, this thing fails even in theory. If I’m a politician and 1000 people give me $100 a piece but one lobbyist gives me $100,000 I’m still listening to the one that gave me the large lump sum. Those other people are divided, scattered, and even if reliable donors, are only good for about $100. I’m still going to do my best to make sure that those $100,000 donations roll in.

    1. ^This^x1000. I had a friend who contributed $250 to the campaign of a democrat running for Congress a while back because he really wanted to get a small business grant and thought it would help his chances. The guy won and after nothing happened for a while, he called his office and the secretary asked him who he was, then said the congressman was too busy to meet with him, but she would look into it. He eventually got a response-asking for more money for his re-election campaign…

    2. However, if the point of it was to placate idiots then it was a smashing success.

  4. Politicians are rigging the rules to favor themselves over new-comers?!?!

    Color me SHOCKED, utterly SHOCKED!!!!

  5. the benefits of Democracy Douchers

    Are the spring-fresh feeling you get after using them to support your preferred candidate.

  6. the benefits of Democracy Douchers

    By far my favorite Freudian slip of the year.

  7. Seattle’s Democracy Vouchers

    This is what Real Democracy looks like.

  8. In total, $78,000 in Democracy Vouchers were assigned by voters to candidates who never received permission to spend that money.

    Tomorrow’s newspaper headline:

    Seattle Election Committee Saves $78,000 in First Year

  9. This needs to be shut down immediately.

    Taxpayers are literally giving money to politicians own wallets now rather than politicians just spending public funds like they’re drunken sailors.

  10. Pikers. This is how you democracy.

    1. What a system! $4M+ when he’s ahead 30 points in the polls, and begging for more.

      I cannot fathom the sad self-delusion it takes to read about this kind of corruption over and over, and yet keep voting for more and bigger and more corrupt government. Even if that is the definition of insanity, I still cannot comprehend it.

      1. He’s got an army of true believers (everyone employed in the public sector) plus another army of supporters that his policies keep in perpetual serfdom. That’s a hard combination to beat.

  11. Taking advice about democracy and public policy from Seattle is like entrusting Tyrion Lannister to devise your battle strategy, to use a metaphor the kids will relate to.

    1. Hey, it totally would have worked if Tyrion had any inkling that his siblings might be willing to sacrifice Casterly Rock in order to take Highgarden. But he didn’t, because he wasn’t around when the other Lannisters found out that the Rock’s gold mines had been tapped out.

      Taking advice about democracy and public policy from Seattle is more like taking advice about democracy and public policy from Cersei.

  12. Once again, lefties get what they deserve. problem of course with lefty deceptions, they take a while to unravel, fail, and cause utter chaos. Just enough time for the zombies to have been brainwashed that lefty failures are capitalism’s fault.

    Once again proving that leftist a-holes are the scourge of the earth right behind politicians who act like lefties.

  13. Every attempt at Campaign reform (financial or otherwise) that I have seen has resulted in increased protections and privileges for establishment candidates. It has gotten to the point where my position is a bloody minded ‘remove all spending and support restrictions, the hell if it lets millionaires buy candidates, at least there are more than two millionaires in the,country’.

  14. going to try to unread that nonsense.

  15. A program intended to empower voters has instead funneled public money to most organized and funded campaigns.

    Working as expected?

  16. Who in the hell thought that this would be a good idea?

    1. Top men.

  17. Want to open up the process?

    Shrink the fuck out of government.

    Until you do, a company would be idiotic to not spend a little money to buy a politician to get really generous tax policies or corporate welfare subsidies for their business.

    If the stakes are remotely high, people will cheat.

    And Congress go ahead and pass a law saying “We aren’t going to bail out any state/city government for any reason?” A lot of these morons still seem to behave as if there is going to be a backstop to slow down the shitball rolling down the mountain.

  18. It’s still a two party system? Shocked.

  19. Democracy Douches? Is McCain relocating to Seattle?

  20. This whole thing sounds like something you would see in Venezuela-you get handouts to support only “approved” candidates…

  21. How does this even pass the laugh test?

    1. Decades of government schooling.

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