The Seattle City Council voted today to forward Honest Elections Seattle's Initiative 122 to the November ballot.
Honest Elections is proposing a plan to publicly fund Seattle elections by allowing candidates to opt in to a system in which all voters would be given $100 in "Democracy Vouchers" to donate to candidates. The program would be funded by a 10-year, $30 million property tax levy (or about 2.5 cents per $1,000 assessed home value). The initiative would also place new limits on campaign contributions and lobbying.
Seattleites last voted on public campaign financing in 2013, during the same election when the new council district elections system passed. That proposal would have matched candidates' private fundraising with public dollars, but failed by about 1,400 votes. Last summer, Council Member Mike O'Brien tried to introduce a campaign finance reform bill, but his colleagues blocked it from appearing on the council agenda.
The lone vote against today's council action to put I-122 on the ballot was Council Member John Okamoto. Okamoto acknowledged that "corporate interests have dominated our elections… and voices of individuals have been diminished." But he said he opposes using levy dollars to fund campaigns.
"Asking taxpayers to contribute $3 million to somehow find ways to even out the playing field—that is my heartburn in this all," Okamoto said. "I think we have the same goals, but I disagree with how we get there."
Council Members Mike O'Brien, Nick Licata, and Kshama Sawant spoke in favor of the initiative. Council Member Sally Bagshaw voted in favor of putting the initiative on the ballot, but said she opposes two pieces of it. Under the initiative, district city council candidates would have to get at least 150 donations of $10 or more in order to qualify to get public money. Bagshaw said she would "at least double that." She also took issue with the three-year "cooling off period" banning certain high level city officials from becoming paid lobbyists in the city within three years of leaving office. Bagshaw said she thinks one year is enough.
The campaign in favor of this initiative has already raised about $236,000, much of that from New York investor and campaign finance reform supporter Sean Eldridge and D.C.-based advocacy group Every Voice.
A group called "No Election Vouchers" has also been formed, but has not yet raised any money. Stay tuned for some shit talking from that group and responses from the pro-Democracy-Vouchers camp.