On Tuesday, Seattle voters advanced the city’s reputation for progressivism when they approved a bold and unusual campaign finance reform plan. The plan will draw on real estate taxes to give every registered voter $100 in “democracy vouchers” to spend on candidates in the next city elections. The 10-year, $30 million experiment in taxpayer subsidized elections was approved by a 20 percent margin in an initiative that supporters said was a reaction to the ability of affluent donors to dominate campaigns. Under the plan, every voter will receive four $25 vouchers in every election cycle to be used only as campaign contributions to candidates in city races.
Candidates are free to decline the money, but those who accept it will have to observe lower campaign spending and contribution limits, and agree to participate in at least three debates against rivals. The program will be financed by a property tax levy that works out to an estimated $9 a year on a $450,000 property. The unusual initiative is being closely watched by government reform groups in other parts of the nation, some of which helped finance the effort to get the initiative approved.
Critics who opposed the measure said that it was an untested experiment that could lead to unforeseen abuses. They warned of attempts to bundle vouchers into powerful blocks of money, but supporters said the initiative had enough safeguards and transparency to protect against fraud. The new law also tightens limits on contributions from city contractors and lobbyists, and requires former office holders to wait three years before they can lobby the city government.