Seattle’s first-in-the-nation voucher system for publicly financing political campaigns is facing a new legal challenge by two local property owners who say it forces them to support candidates they don’t like. The Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian-leaning law firm, sued the city Wednesday in King County Superior Court over the “democracy voucher” program, which was passed by voters in 2015 and is being used for the first time in this year’s City Council and city attorney races. Under the program, Seattle’s voters decided to tax themselves $3 million a year in exchange for four $25 vouchers that they can sign over to candidates. According to the city, it costs the average homeowner $11.50 per year.
Supporters say it’s a novel way to counter big money in politics, to engage people who wouldn’t otherwise be involved in campaigns and to help lesser-known candidates communicate their views.
But the lawsuit, brought on behalf of architect Mark Elster and landlord Sarah Pynchon, claims using their tax dollars to provide vouchers to their fellow citizens, who can then use them to support candidates Elster and Pynchon oppose, violates their free-speech rights under the U.S. Constitution.
“Our free-speech rights come with a right not to speak,” Elster said. “They’re putting words in my mouth. They’re putting political speech in my mouth. They’re using my money for political campaigns I may or may not agree with.”