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Seattle’s Democracy Vouchers Reduce the Power of Big Money and Expand Political Participation

November 15, 2017 | Laura Friedenbach

Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program is achieving its intended goals by generating historic numbers of new and small donors, diversifying the makeup of campaign supporters to better reflect the people of Seattle, and limiting the reliance on big money in local elections, according to an initial analysis of the new system in this year’s city elections by the Seattle-based Win/Win Network and national money-in-politics group Every Voice Center.

“This was a historic election in which more Seattleites participated as donors than ever before and more candidates were able to run with the backing of small donors, instead of big money,” said Cara Bilodeau, program director at the Win/Win Network. “Our city is strongest when everyone has the opportunity to have his or her voice heard, and thanks to the Democracy Voucher Program, we made strides towards ensuring that opportunity this election season.”

“Seattle voters put in place the Democracy Voucher Program to make local government more accountable to the people of Seattle, and so far, it’s working,” said Tam Doan, research and policy director at Every Voice Center. “As billionaire donors play an increasingly larger role in national politics, Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program is a promising example and a reminder for the rest of the nation that if we choose to use them, we have the tools necessary to reduce the power of big money and give everyday people a bigger voice in our political system.”

The full report can be found online here. Using data currently available, this initial analysis of the 2017 election surfaced these key findings:

  • At least 25,000 Seattle residents—a historic number—participated as campaign donors in this election cycle, three times the roughly 8,200 residents who donated to candidates in 2013.
  • As of publication, more than 18,000 Seattle residents gave nearly 70,000 Democracy Vouchers to 2017 candidates, and more Democracy Vouchers are likely to be received before the December 1 deadline.
  • Incredibly, we estimate 84 percent of this cycle’s Seattle donors were new donors—about 20,900 individuals who had not contributed to city candidates in the 2015 or 2013 cycles. Among these new donors, 71 percent were voucher donors.
  • Contrasting voucher donors to city council and city attorney candidates to cash donors to mayoral candidates in 2017, Democracy Voucher donors better reflected Seattle’s population including young people, women, people of color, and less affluent residents.
  • Candidates in races eligible for Democracy Vouchers relied less on big money. Instead, 87 percent of the support for their campaigns came from small donations of $250 or less and Democracy Vouchers. By contrast, small donations accounted for just 48 percent of the money backing candidates for city council and city attorney in the 2013 elections.

In 2015, Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved the Honest Elections Seattle ballot initiative by a 63 percent to 37 percent vote to create the first-in-the-nation Democracy Voucher Program. In 2017, the program went into effect for the first time distributing four $25 Democracy Vouchers to every Seattle resident for use in two at-large city council races and the contest for city attorney. The program will expand to the race for mayor in future election cycles. To qualify to spend the vouchers, candidates agreed to only accept small donations of $250 or less, raise a threshold number of small contributions, gather signatures, and agree to limit their campaign spending.

Learn more at HonestElectionsSeattle.org.

View the full report online at http://honestelectionsseattle.org/2017-report/

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