An organization called Honest Elections Seattle filed 32,000 signatures Monday to run an initiative that they hope could blaze new trails nationally while dramatically overhauling how local candidates for mayor, city attorney and city council raise money.
The initiative, which was filed as I-122, contains an unprecedented idea for public financing of political campaigns. If passed, Seattle voters would receive four $25 vouchers apiece to give to the candidate or candidates of their choice. Borne out of the thinking of Yale and Harvard academics, the idea, according to Honest Elections’ policy architect Alan Durning, is to force candidates to solicit more donations from a wider range of people rather than leaning on the support of their wealthy friends.
Assuming the city clerk validates some 20,630 of the signatures, Seattle voters will decide on the initiative in November. Durning said that the campaigners have complete confidence that enough will qualify to put the measure before voters.
Honest Elections Executive Committee member Estevan Munoz-Howard believes the initiative would provide average citizens a path to winning election to office. “You ought to compete in the power of ideas,” he said, “not money.”
The voucher system is untested. Tallahassee, Florida has a $25 tax rebate for donors and in Minneapolis, donors can receive tax credits. But I-122 would set up the only system in the U.S. to give public money to citizens to encourage civic participation in campaign financing.
I-122 would also reduce the maximum individual donations from $700 per person per candidate to $500, restrict the ability of lobbyists and contractors to donate, and, among other things, cap campaign spending. The spending limits would be $800,000 for mayor, $300,000 for citywide council candidates and $150,000 for district council and city attorney candidates.