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Seattle Democracy Vouchers upheld, few consequences for FEC scofflaws and more news for 11/6/17

November 6, 2017 | Meghan Faulkner

On Friday, a Seattle judge upheld the city’s innovative, voter-approved Democracy Vouchers program, ruling that the program is constitutional and has a reasonable justification to reduce the influence of big money and increase voter participation in city elections.

The Honest Elections coalition that helped pass Seattle’s Democracy Vouchers praised the ruling, dismissing the plaintiffs claims that using property taxes to fund the program is a violation of their First Amendment rights: “We are pleased to see King County Superior Court dismiss this misguided lawsuit and side with the people of Seattle who enthusiastically approved the Democracy Voucher program in 2015. The case, Elster v. City of Seattle, was a meritless attack aimed at undermining the will of the voters of Seattle.” RT.

Contrary to the plaintiff’s claims, the Seattle Democracy Vouchers program is “already proving its worth” according to the Honest Elections coalition by allowing more people to have a voice in city elections and making the donor pool more reflective of Seattle’s population. As voters make their final decisions tomorrow about who to vote for in this year’s city election, they have the choice of many candidates who are funded by democracy vouchers and small donations, instead of big money.

In other news, even after becoming commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross continued to hold investments in Navigator Holdings, a shipping firm with business ties to Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law and a Russian oligarch sanctioned by the U.S. Not only was this investment not listed on his ethics agreement, a previous disclosure of his investments neglected to mention its ties to Sibur, the Putin-tied company. Ethics experts note that there is a potential for conflicts of interest, given Ross’s lead role on negotiating trade policy, if he benefits financially from a company tied to Putin.

During his confirmation hearings, Ross assured senators he would be very careful about avoiding conflicts with his investments and his cabinet position, saying: “I intend to be quite scrupulous about recusal and any topic where there is the slightest scintilla of doubt.” So I’m sure he’ll be recusing himself from Russian trade policy immediately.

Campaign Finance/Election Law

Center for Public Integrity: Scofflaw politicos ignore federal fines — with few consequences
The FEC has few options for collecting unpaid fines from campaigns and PACs, and the debts continue to mount: “More than 160 political committees and similar groups together owe the government more than $1.3 million worth of unpaid fines, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission and U.S. Treasury records since 2000.”

Denver Post: Public financing and lower donation limits for Denver elections? Question is headed to ballot — in 2018
An initiative to lower donation limits and create a public financing system for Denver city elections will be on the ballot next November. One of the organizers on why public financing matters: “The only way the average voter would be able to compete with (high amounts of) money on the other side of the aisle is through that small-donor matching.”

Congress/Administration

Washington Post: At least nine people in Trump’s orbit had contact with Russians during campaign and transition
The nine people include Trump’s son, son-in-law, attorney general, and campaign chair: “While Trump has sought to dismiss these Russia ties as insignificant, or characterized the people involved in them as peripheral figures, it has now become clear that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III views at least some of them as important pieces of his sprawling investigation of Russian meddling in last year’s presidential campaign.”

The Daily Beast: Massive Leak Reveals New Ties Between Trump Administration and Russia, Implicating Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Jared Kushner
Wilbur Ross isn’t the only one with undisclosed Russian business ties: “Top White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is also implicated. The documents reveal that Russian tech leader Yuri Milner invested $850,000 in a startup called Cadre that Kushner co-founded in 2014.”

McClatchy: Coming soon to a TV or web site near you: A record-breaking, expensive 2018 election
A year out from midterm elections, record-setting spending is already expected: “With antipathy toward President Donald Trump energizing Democrats, and Republicans intent on maintaining their congressional majorities, campaign watchers expect a chart-topping year that will easily surpass the $3.84 billion that candidates, political parties and outside groups spent in 2014 when Republicans took full control of Congress.”

Think Progress: Trump interrupts foreign trip to promote Trump-branded hotel
Trump didn’t miss a chance to promote his hotel – and Sarah Huckabee Sanders got in on the promotion too: “But on his way back to the airport, Trump made another stop — this time at the Trump Hotel in Waikiki. According to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump wanted to greet the employees and thank them for their hard work in making the Trump Hotel a ‘tremendously successful project.’ This stop, which happened amidst a taxpayer-funded trip, was both unexpected and unannounced, according to reporters travelling with the president.”

Washington Post: What’s in it for Johnny Lunchbucket?
“The numbers don’t lie, but if you need more evidence, consider this: Billionaires Sheldon Adelson, Todd Ricketts, and Charles and David Koch are paying tens of millions of dollars to persuade working-class Americans to support a tax bill that would net these billionaires even more billions.”

States/Other

Casper Star-Tribune: Wyoming group seeks to get money out of politics with constitutional amendment
“A group of volunteers is seeking to make Wyoming the 20th state to call on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment banning corporations and unions from spending on political causes.”

Daily camera: Mark Wallach: Citizens United comes to Boulder
Big money in Boulder elections: “This is 2017, and we now have deep-pocketed groups in Boulder who know better what is good for us, and who believe that winning at all costs is more important than adhering to these principles of limited expenditures and fiscal transparency. And in so doing they have brought the misguided principle of Citizens United to Boulder: he who has the most money wins.”

Arizona Daily Star: Initiative would ban ‘dirty money’ — anonymous donations — in Arizona politics
A potential initiative in Arizona aims to ban anonymous political spending in state elections: “Grossfeld said the final language is still being tweaked. But he said the bottom line is designed to expose anyone who puts at least $10,000 into any campaign, whether for public office or a ballot measure.”

Meghan Faulkner

Meghan Faulkner is the digital manager at Every Voice.