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Seattle Voters Approve First-in-the-Nation ‘Democracy Vouchers’

04 Nov

‘We look forward to seeing more cities and states implementing their own local solutions to the problem of big money in politics,’ says campaign spokesperson

“Seattle leads the nation, first on $15 an hour and now on campaign-finance reform,” said a campaign spokesperson on Tuesday night. (Photo: Howard Ignatius/flickr/cc)

Voters in Seattle, Washington on Tuesday approved a first-in-the-nation “democracy voucher” ballot initiative that could serve as a national model on campaign finance reform.

Initiative 122 (I-122), which was endorsed by nearly every Seattle City Council candidate and enjoyed the support of dozens of local and national progressive groups, passed 60-40, according to the King County Elections Office.

Supporters say the innovative public campaign financing program could give everyday voters more control over the city’s elections while limiting the power of corporate and special interests.

The initiative states that for each city election cycle, or every two years, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) will mail four $25 vouchers to each voter. They can only be used in Seattle campaigns for mayor, city council and city attorney. The SEEC will release money to the candidates that agree to follow I-122’s rules, which include participating in three debates and accepting lower contribution and spending limits.

The measure also prohibits elected officials and their high-level staff from lobbying the city government within three years of leaving office and enacts limits on campaign contributions from people or entities that have contracts with the city.

Last year, Seattle’s City Council passed a historic measure establishing a $15 minimum wage.

“Seattle leads the nation, first on $15 an hour and now on campaign-finance reform. We look forward to seeing more cities and states implementing their own local solutions to the problem of big money in politics,” said Heather Weiner, a campaign spokesperson, on Tuesday night.

Ahead of the vote, City Council member Estevan Muñoz-Howard described the initiative as “our best chance at reducing the role of money in Seattle politics. We already have some of the most expensive city council races in the country, which are funded by less than one percent of our city’s population. This initiative will amplify the voices of regular people and reduce the role that wealthy donors and paid lobbyists play in setting our city’s priorities.”

And on Monday, Campaign for America’s Future blogger Terrance Heath speculated about what a ‘Yes’ vote could mean: “Will Seattle’s Democracy Vouchers catch on? If I–122 passes on Tuesday, the idea could spread to other cities, giving state and local governments important tools to limit the influence of big money in a post-Citizens United world,” he wrote. “If Seattle shows the way, changing local politics may prove the key to change on the national political scene.”

Maine voters also approved a clean elections ballot initiative on Tuesday.

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