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Seattle Reimagines Politics as Usual

August 3, 2017 | Laura Friedenbach

Democracy Voucher Candidates Funded by Small Donors Win in This Week’s Primary Election

Washington, D.C. — Following this week’s primary election in Seattle, voters will have the choice of electing candidates for City Council and City Attorney who are running their campaigns mostly with the support of small donors. Seattle is reimagining politics as usual and showing that our democracy does not have to be dominated by big donors, said money-in-politics watchdog Every Voice. 

“Seattle is demonstrating that while voter anger over our big-money system continues to simmer, we have the tools at our fingertips to fix our broken campaign finance system and ensure everyone, not just billionaires, can have their voice heard,” said Every Voice founding executive Nick Nyhart. “This is a complete reimagining of politics as usual, and it’s working to give those without deep pockets a voice.”

For the first time, a new “democracy voucher” program is allowing every city resident to become a political donor with four $25 democracy vouchers. Candidates who wish to fund their campaigns with the vouchers also limit their contributions to $250 and first prove their grassroots support by collecting small donations. With most of the votes in for the top-two primary election, candidates who funded their campaigns on the mix of small donations and $25 democracy vouchers from residents are leading in both City Council races. The incumbent in the City Attorney’s race is also using democracy vouchers to face off against a challenger in the general election. 

Here are some indicators so far the program is working: 

  • Candidates are rejecting big money to use democracy vouchers. In the three races where democracy vouchers can be used, four candidates qualified to cash in their democracy vouchers and another nine candidates rejected big-money donations while seeking qualification.  
  • The donor pool is expanding as everyday residents become campaign contributors. In 2013, before democracy vouchers were in place, candidates for Mayor, City Attorney, and four City Council races ran with donations from 8,450 people overall, received over the entire cycle. This election cycle, in a little over half a year, more than 8,000 Seattle residents have already given vouchers to candidates in just three races—that doesn’t include the higher-profile race for mayor that typically attracts more donors. 
  • Candidates fueled by small donors were able to compete against big money.  With a mix of candidates who decided to run using the democracy voucher program and those who decided to continue to collect large donations, democracy voucher candidates were able to effectively compete and come out on top–even in the face of big money opponents and outside spending. 

For the program’s first outing, candidates for office in both City Council races and the City Attorney race are able to participate. In future elections, candidates for Mayor will have the option of running using democracy vouchers.

In 2015, Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved the Honest Elections Seattle ballot initiative to create the Democracy Vouchers program. Every Voice played a key role in the winning campaign, providing strategic guidance and support on communications, fundraising, and field work. 

Every Voice is working with groups around the country to build momentum for policies that amplify the voices of everyday people and reduce the influence of big money in politics. Small-donor public financing programs are in effect or in the process of being implemented across the country including in Maine, Connecticut, Arizona, New York City (N.Y.), Portland (Ore.), Howard County (Md.), and Montgomery County (Md.). 

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Every Voice is a national organization fighting for a democracy that works for everyone.