'Democracy Vouchers' Help Incumbents, Establishment Candidates Coast to Victory

Seattle's vouchers, passed to give outsiders a leg up, instead act as campaign welfare for well-established candidates.



The results are in from Seattle's first election under the city's Democracy Voucher program. So far, the winners are incumbents and establishment-backed campaigns.

The program gives each registered voter four $25 vouchers to give to the qualified candidates of their choice. Voucher proponents promised the program would enable "more candidates, including women, young people and people of color, to run viable campaigns against big money candidates." Instead, incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes and Councilmember M. Lorena González coasted to easy reelection victories cushioned by Democracy Voucher cash, winning 73 percent and 68 percent of the vote, respectively.

These results do not surprise Ethan Blevins, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation.

"When you say that we are going to allow public funds to go to candidates," he tells Reason, "voters are going to give the vouchers to people they are familiar with, they know, that they are comfortable with, and those are going to tend to be incumbents."

Blevins is currently suing the city over the program, alleging that by forcing people to fund campaigns they disagree with, it runs afoul of the First Amendment. That lawsuit was preliminarily dismissed last week, although Blevins plans to appeal.

Whatever the fate of Blevins' lawsuit, his argument that the program will help incumbents seems to be holding up.

The two-term, 61-year-old Holmes, for instance, used $126,150 in Democracy Vouchers in his run against 39-year-old challenger Scott Lindsay. Lindsay had run on a platform of being an "activist city attorney" but did not qualify to recieve the vouchers.

Similarly, Councilmember González raised $213,175 in Democracy Vouchers while her opponent, political neophyte Pat Murakami, brought in a smaller haul of $128,850.

All in all, the Democracy Voucher program saw Seattle taxpayers spent $339,325 helping these two incumbents successfully retain their seats against challenges from opponents that were either younger, or less experienced and less well funded.

Something similar can be said for the City Council Position 8 race—the only election for an open seat where Democracy Vouchers could be used. There, former union campaign director Tereasa Mosqueda got 62 percent of the vote, soundly defeating tenants rights activist Jon Grant.

Both had collected the maximum allowable $300,000 in Democracy Vouchers, but Mosqueda was able to rely on more traditional measures of campaign support, like a three-to-one non-voucher funding advantage and a long list of union and Democratic Party endorsements to help put her over the top.

None of this even mentions all the even more marginal primary candidates who utterly failed to benefit from Democracy Vouchers.

That includes Hisam Goueli, a gay Muslim doctor who had never before held public office. Gouli had $14,650 in vouchers pledged to him for his campaign in the Position 8 race, but didn't meet the programs requirements to spend that money until the Friday before the city's primary. Former candidate Sheley Secrest, meanwhile, is being charged with trying to defraud the program during her run for the same seat.

Laura Friendenbach of the non-profit Every Voice, a major contributor to the 2015 ballot campaign that created Democracy Vouchers, says the program was a "resounding success" yesterday.

"Races with Democracy Vouchers saw historic numbers of small-donor campaign contributors and a more diverse makeup of campaign supporters that better reflects the people of Seattle," she tells Reason.

Her group helped perform an analysis of donors in Seattle races that accepted vouchers versus the mayoral race where vouchers were prohibited, finding that donors in the voucher-accepting races were on the whole younger and poorer.

Yet despite the increase in small-dollar donors, the actual electoral results appear to have changed very little. Better funded, more experienced incumbents dominated at the polls while outsiders fell short. That same result could easily be achieved without taxpayers funding it.

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  1. “Races with Democracy Vouchers saw historic numbers of small-donor campaign contributors and a more diverse makeup of campaign supporters that better reflects the people of Seattle,” she tells Reason.

    When you define your own metric of success, you just can’t lose.

    1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

      This is what I do…

  2. Nice big scheme to take taxpayer money, then the government decides that you should get $100 back to spend on politicians that want to take more of your money away.

    Guaranteed that some of the lefties who vote for these morons move away to some other place and try and implement this retarded idea.

  3. Blevins is currently suing the city over the program, alleging that by forcing people to fund campaigns they disagree with, it runs afoul of the First Amendment

    “Forcing people to fund things they disagree with” was Durkin’s campaign slogan for Mayor of Seattle. And she won soundly. Good luck with your fucking task Blevins.

  4. Sexton is fucking idiot. Cyber crime is a far greater threat to all of our security then retreiving some dead assholes phone records. It’s not even fucking close. The more bomb proof our info, the better for everyone. Does he really think the phone records are going to tell them why he shot babies?


    1. Does he really think the phone records are going to tell them why he shot babies?

      No, it’s just another case where they can appeal to the public to go along with their unconstitutional behavior ‘for the children’. Same as it always was.

  5. “”So far, the winners are incumbents and establishment-backed campaigns.””

    See, the system works as intended!

  6. Most of y’all don’t live under this incredibly corrupt Junta that is Seattle Politics, but for those of you who take a perverse enjoyment of feeling utter and complete bone rattling rage over how corrupt local government can be, and just how awful these little local initiatives can turn out, here is some of the best journalism going in the Seattle area, bar none.

    I link to the top level page because there are many stories, but he’s currently doing a series on the open, light of day corruption going on with Democracy Vouchers, and how the ethics committee literally wouldn’t sanction an establishment candidate that took advantage of the voucher program and lied on her forms, because the first order of the System is: Preserve the System.

    1. I went to the complaint hearing on September 14, and I watched the commissioners listened to Gonzalez making excuses: She was sick. She didn’t understand the rules. Her campaign manager was responsible for the mistake, etc. The commissioners didn’t believe a word; they knew she was lying, and it made them visibly uncomfortable to listen to her. But in the end, they still let her off the hook. Why? Because the logical penalty for her actions would have been for the Commission to kick Gonzalez out of the Democracy Voucher Program altogether, and they felt that would be too harsh.


    2. Kahlneberg told me that she tried to organize a forum for Position 9 as well, but when she e-mailed Gonzalez to see if she’d be interested, Gonzalez didn’t respond. So she dropped the idea. When I asked her why she dropped it because one person wasn’t going, Kahlenberg explained that Gonzalez, as the incumbent, was the star of the show. And without the star, the show couldn’t go on. Gonzalez’ refusal to respond to Kahlenberg’s invitation meant that not only would she, Gonzalez, not be meeting with the public at Horizon House, the other Position 9 candidates would not be there either, because there would be no forum.

      Think about that. They try to hold a public forum, the incumbent doesn’t respond, so the public forum can’t continue because the incumbent is the star! That’s when it’s extra important that the public form go on. If the incumbent won’t show, that’s important to how she views her constituents.

      1. Seattle is the land of the loons; it is known.

        1. Even some of the local reporters and columnists are beginning to admit that Seattle Politics is a bit ‘loony’… but what they won’t acknowledge is that it’s entirely corrupt. Even when that corruption is occurring right before their eyes.

          1. Oh yeah. Any time someone says that public officials are great people I just point to Kwame Kilpatrick as the typical model for how a permanent Democrat majority city operates. Not that I would imagine that a permanent majority Republican bastion would be much better, but their awfulness tends to exhibit itself in slightly less spectacular fashions.

    3. Ms. Norton then called for the Commission to dismiss my appeal peremptorily. She said that she wasn’t going to consider any of the new material I’d submitted and that she and the Commission had decided the matter at the first hearing. The Voucher Program was new and confusing, she reminded me, and she was still convinced, as she had been at the initial hearing, that Gonzalez was doing her best to try to meet the requirements. Following their habit, none of the other Commissioners bucked Norton. They voted unanimously to dismiss my appeal, without any deliberation.

      The Commissioner and the Councilmember: Eileen Norton (left) chairs the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. Councilmember Gonzalez voted on Norton’s appointment and served on the Commission for two years herself, leaving a short time before Norton was appointed.

      The chair of the ethics commission was appointed by the ethically challenged Gonzalez.

      1. If you’re going to have an ethics commission shouldn’t that be an elected position as to avoid a conflict of interest?

        1. Only if you are actually going to attempt to enforce ethics.
          What are the odds of an ethical person getting elected anywhere, not to mention Seattle?

    4. Jesus.

      Beer for Democracy vouchers.

    5. I heartily agree about your assessment of Preston as producing “the best journalism going on in the Seattle area”. I was kinda psyched to see this HnR article coz “Hey, I know something about this! Great piece in the Blog Quixotic!” and then you already posted it.

      Shit. Well, hope everybody gives Mr. Preston some attention. His article on the “Homeless, Inc.” scamsters in Seattle is the best investigative longread I’ve run into for a long, long time.

    6. Didn’t see this earlier but totally agree on what a fine piece of journalism, AS JOURNALISM SHOULD BE, that was. An excellent story and worth checking out for everyone because the principles of how politicians do what they do and how they get away with it, are pretty universal.

      His article on the scam “homeless industry” in Seattle is even more awesome: well-sourced, comprehensive and much more fair and mild in tone than the subjects of the expose deserve. “Anatomy of a Swindle”r (just add https to the following as it is over 50 characters and there is, apparently, a limit)

  7. Question regarding these vouchers, can I just say I’m running for office and write my own name in and keep the $200?

    1. Not a real question; of course we can’t.

    2. I’ve thought about that, but it’s more complicated. See the rules in the blog I linked to above. You have to attend public forums etc. However, given the lax nature of how they hold public officials to the rules, you may actually be able to do that.

      Oh wait, no you won’t, because you don’t go to Pilates with the ethics chairperson.

      1. The reason why I won’t be able to do that is because I can virtually guarantee that somewhere in the Labyrinth is a person who decides who is a ‘real’ candidate or not.

  8. Can I give the money to myself as a write-in candidate? Sorry, as a potential write-in candidate?

    1. Shit.

      Need to read the thread first.

      1. Good to know we’re both on board with trying to figure out how to keep more of our money though.

  9. Better funded, more experienced incumbents dominated at the polls while outsiders fell short.

    Christian, check out my link above, seriously. The incumbents gamed the system and lied about their eligibility, and the ethics commission wouldn’t sanction them because they were appointed by those incumbents.

  10. Gee, imagine that the incumbents would cheerfully spend public money they control to unseat themselves!
    Imagine Obama telling the truth!

  11. To anyone thinking of visiting or relocating to the socialist hellscape that is Seattle: STAY AWAY! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STAY THE FUCK AWAY.

    I hate this place, and the freakshow that is daily life is unbearable out here.

    1. Whatever your job, there is one of them in Texas – – – – –

  12. It ceases to amaze me how liberal politicians are with the others money, how is it possible that tax funded vouchers are legal for campaigns? Appaling

  13. Goddamnit, doesn’t Seattle have a REAL newspaper? You know, the kind that would jump on a juicy story like a so-called “Ethics Commission” ignoring the rules to gift a favored politician with a free quarter mill of public money? I mean, if Seattle only had actual, like, journalists working at a big-circulation paper…what? They DO have a big newspaper? But…but…why wouldn’t they jump on a juicy story like…oh, I get it. Narrative says: “Republicans corrupt and greedy, Democrats noble and self-sacrificing. Narrative trumps reality, every time.

    1. You said Trump!!
      Fake news!

  14. Since, to the best of my knowledge, every singe attempt to ‘reform’ campaign financing has ended up being an advantage for incumbents and/or the established parties the clear solution would seem to be to undo all restrictions which (if we go with the idea that spending money on a political campaign is speech, and I do) are clear violations of the First Amendment in any case.

    Cue the strikes of outrage from the Political Left, which never met an issue it didn’t think needed more government oversight…even widespread government corruption.

  15. I live in Seattle. I’m getting out of this place in the next couple years though, I can’t take it anymore. 10 years ago the level of prog derp was tolerable. They were all commies, but the outward displays of insanity were waaaaay more toned down. I can’t deal with it anymore. I’m thinking Idaho sounds good…

    As for the vouchers, I refused to use mine. I don’t think there was one single person running for any office at the city level where I could have used them who deserved a penny, so I saved the taxpayers (myself) some cash by tossing that shit in the recycle bin.

    1. Idaho has a state income tax. (top rate 7.4%)
      Try Wyoming, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Tennessee, Alaska, or Florida. Support zero income tax states, it is good for everyone.
      (New Hampshire ‘only’ taxes interest and dividend income, but that is really mean to retirees)

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