Democracy Vouchers Win Again!

Seattle Space Needle

In a huge win for reform advocates, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously confirmed the constitutionality of Seattle’s innovative public financing program. 

The court found that the democracy voucher program is consistent with decades of legal precedent, first established in Buckley v. ValeoThe decision allows the program to continue and is good news for Seattle and for those looking to counteract the influence of wealthy donors and implement democracy vouchers.

The decision rested on the importance of self-government and the government’s interest in attacking corruption. Relying on Buckley, the court recognized that the program helps facilitate political speech and is consistent with the first Amendment. CLC argued the same points in an amicus brief filed along with the Brennan Center.

Under the voucher system, Seattle provides eligible citizens with a credit of public funds (i.e., “vouchers”). The voters then assign their vouchers to the candidates of their choice and can support campaigns irrespective of financial circumstances. 

All Seattle voters receive four vouchers, each worth $25. The program empowers all residents by making everyone in the city a potential campaign contributor, and encourages candidates to reach out to people who might otherwise be ignored

Research showed that in the program’s first year the donor pool was more representative of the city than those who donated in the traditional fashion. 

This year, the vouchers are even more popular: about a month before the primary there have already been more vouchers redeemed than there were last election. In 2015, the last election using the conventional fundraising model, nearly 30% of donors were from outside the city

Outside donors have dropped to just over 10% under the trailblazing program. 

Democracy vouchers are a groundbreaking reform and will help reduce the corrupting influence of campaign donations. 

CLC continues to work with local activists to craft legally sound and effective solutions to the issues vexing our democracy. Now with the validation of the Washington Supreme Court, democracy vouchers are ripe for adoption across the country. 

Mo provides research and writing support to program staff across all of CLC’s issue areas.