Seattle residents voted Tuesday night on a campaign measure that was publicized as a national model for campaign finance reform. The measure, based on votes counted around 11 p.m. local time Tuesday, had garnered 60 percent of the votes, local media reported.
“Seattle leads the nation ... We look forward to seeing more cities and states implementing their own local solutions to the problem of big money in politics,” Heather Weiner, a spokeswoman for the Honest Elections Initiative, or I-122, said, according to the Seattle Times.
The initiative aims to create a public financing model that would drastically transform how candidates raise money. Under the measure, every Seattle resident would receive four “democracy vouchers” each representing $25 of public funds. The vouchers could be given to any local candidate of their choice, as long as that candidate opted in to the program, ABC News reported. Backers of the initiative said it would bring more diversity to the city’s pool of candidates, giving those without access to big-money donors the ability to compete. Proponents also argued the measure would encourage candidates to spend more time listening to ordinary citizens’ concerns.
“You would still have to fund raise,” said Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien, who supports the measure, Al Jazeera America reported. “But when you get to spend the whole day talking to voters instead of big donors you’re talking to the 100 percent, not just the 1 percent. Your message doesn't get honed over time to what the 1 percent wants from you.”
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The program will cost $3 million a year, according to Honest Elections Seattle, and the funds are expected to come from an increase in property taxes -- less than a cent per $1,000 of property value -- ABC News reported. Critics of the voucher program argued that the model is unfair to Seattle residents who are not registered voters, and opponents of the measure also argued that the voucher program could ultimately make it more difficult to remove incumbents.
“This [initiative] would cause a January dash for voucher dollars,” said Robert Mahon, former chairman of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, Al Jazeera America reported. “If you’re an incumbent it’s pretty easy to come to voters and ask for a voucher when you don’t have an opponent yet.”
The measure also calls to limit election campaign contributions from entities receiving city contracts of $250,000 or more, or from people spending more than $5,000 on lobbying, NPR reported.