Supporters of initiative I-122 in Seattle claim that they are attempting to reduce and eventually eliminate the influence of independent money in elections. They tried to pass a similar proposition in 2013 in Seattle named Proposition 1 that narrowly lost with 50.37% of the vote. Supporters claim that wealthy groups and individuals have too much power in politics and would like to place campaign funding into the public sphere. The initiative would implement a new Democracy Voucher Program that publically funds candidates for City of Seattle elections. This consists of four $25 vouchers sent to each registered voter, of which the voter can give to the candidate(s) they support. If the voter wishes, they can send all four vouchers to a single candidate, all four to separate candidates, or any combination in between. Proponents say that the Democratic Voucher Program would be funded by a $3 million property tax levy that is collected yearly.
The program would accelerate the disclosure of financial contributions because all candidates for City of Seattle electoral offices will need to report to the Seattle City Clerk any campaign contribution made electronically upon deposit into a candidate’s account. The initiative states that candidates cannot take campaign money from companies that spend $5,000 over a two year period on lobbyists or lobbying efforts in Seattle. There are limits on campaign spending and disallow any contribution of more than $250 for city council and city attorney and $500 for all city candidates and mayoral candidates, as well as no fundraising from specific organization and entities that include independent expenditures groups. This would also implement a spending cap on all City of Seattle campaigns in the following forms:
- Mayor $400,000 for the primary election, and $800,000 total (for both primary and general election);
- City Attorney, $75,000 for the primary election, and $150,000 total;
- At-large City Council, $150,000 for the primary election, and $300,000 total;
- District City Council, $75,000 for the primary election and $150,000 total.
The opposition states that a $3 million a year levy to fund the voucher system will not be enough. Their viewpoint is that there are approximately 415,000 registered voters in Seattle and if each person gets $100 in vouchers, then the budget would have to be $41.5 million per year for the vouchers alone. This figure does not take into account the administrative costs that the new system would incur. The opposition also claims that public financing will increase outside money because the lowered contribution cap (currently City of Seattle races have a contribution cap of $700 per contribution). Opponents argue that this new voucher system will only encourage special interest groups to spend their money on independent expenditure campaigns due to the lack of language in the initiative dealing with independent expenditures. Candidates can also get around the spending limit if they can show that the combination of their opposition and independent expenditures opposing them or in favor of their opposition exceed the spending limit. Once this benchmark is hit, there is no stated spending limit in place.
Will Initiative 122 change politics in Seattle, and furthermore in Washington State? Will this force money that the candidate campaigns need to be competitive into independent expenditures due to spending limitations? How much will it cost the tax payers to create a new oversight committee (SEEC) and give every registered voter $100 each election cycle? How will this reduce or eliminate the influence of independent money in elections as the authors of I-122 claim, if I-122 does not affect independent expenditure campaigns?