Seattle's Experiment with Campaign Finance Reform
February 11, 2016 10:26 PM   Subscribe

Starting in 2017, city residents will be able to contribute to local candidates without spending a dime of their own money. Instead, the government will send each registered voter four $25 vouchers that they can give to candidates of their choice. No cutting a check. No minimum contribution. Candidates can opt out, but those who participate will have to abide by strict limits on spending and on receiving private donations.

"The passage of [the Seattle measure and a Maine ballot measure] signals a new front in the effort to reform and democratize campaign finance. Since the 2010 Citizens United decision opened the door to unlimited election spending by corporations, unions and, following a subsequent lower court ruling, wealthy individuals, public distaste for the role of big money in politics has increased dramatically," and polling tends to show Americans favor a reform of campaign financing in light of Citizens United [pdf]. Yet at the same time, public support for public financing at the presidential level is, by one practical measure, at an all time low. American Prospect argues that "ballot success in Maine and Seattle could be a turning point for substantive campaign-finance reform," but Time asks, Do We Really Need Campaign Finance Reform?
posted by MoonOrb (20 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Starting in 2017, city residents will be able to contribute to local candidates without spending a dime of their own money. Instead, the government will send each registered voter four $25 vouchers that they can give to candidates of their choice. No cutting a check. No minimum contribution. Candidates can opt out, but those who participate will have to abide by strict limits on spending and on receiving private donations.

The residents will be spending their own money, as the program's subsidized through their taxes. It's not as if the Free Hand flexed its palm for this program, causing a new reserve of revenue to appear from nowhere.
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:05 AM on February 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


Then to my mind, that makes it even better! They are actually getting to make political contributions where in the past that may have been something they couldn't afford. I like it.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:09 AM on February 12, 2016 [2 favorites]





Then to my mind, that makes it even better! They are actually getting to make political contributions where in the past that may have been something they couldn't afford. I like it.

So ... Someone can't afford to make political contributions. So we'll tax them. And then give them $100 in vouchers. So now they can make political contributions!
That's the theory here?
posted by bowmaniac at 6:17 AM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


And this is why I support the ruling of Citizens United v. FEC. The case was started because the Citizens United lobbying group wanted to advertise an anti–Hillary Clinton film, but the McCain-Feingold Act prohibited corporations or unions from paying for "broadcast, cable, or satellite communication that mentioned a candidate within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary". This is obviously unconstitutional as applied to a human person, and given that few individuals are rich enough to pay for an ad campaign on their own, I think it's also unreasonable to prevent them from mutually funding their speech (by forming a corporation).

Campaign finance reform is a separate issue, and as Seattle's experiment shows, the ruling does not prevent it. If I understand correctly, it prohibits the candidates themselves from receiving excess donations, so no person (human or corporation) can give $1,000,000 to Bernie Sanders; but if I want to distribute a film about him, Citizens United says I can, even if I make a corporation to do it.

So ... Someone can't afford to make political contributions. So we'll tax them. And then give them $100 in vouchers. So now they can make political contributions!

It's being paid for with "a modest increase in property taxes", and I doubt there are many people who can afford valuable real estate but not political contributions.
posted by Rangi at 6:18 AM on February 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


MN has been doing a state-funded, $50/year election donation forever. I don't think it has really resulted in anything, big donors are so much larger (especially at the state level) that it doesn't matter.
posted by miyabo at 6:18 AM on February 12, 2016


So ... Someone can't afford to make political contributions. So we'll tax them. And then give them $100 in vouchers. So now they can make political contributions!
That's the theory here?

It distributes the ability to make political contributions more evenly among the population, regardless of income. Since the fund is paid for by a small increase in property taxes, which are generally going to be higher the more expensive of a house you own and thus the richer you are, it is essentially a way to allow even those whose incomes would normally not allow them to donate to participate. It's essentially leveling the playing field, such that those with larger incomes are not allowed to play a disproportionate role in the political process.
posted by peacheater at 6:36 AM on February 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


I don't see how this is supposed to make a significant difference if candidates can opt out. Candidates that already have a good funding infrastructure can lean on their donors to run a campaign with unlimited expenses, but candidates who accept public funding are saddled with strict spending limits?
posted by Dr. Send at 6:50 AM on February 12, 2016


Candidates can opt out, but those who participate will have to abide by strict limits on spending and on receiving private donations.

miyabo: MN has been doing a state-funded, $50/year election donation forever. I don't think it has really resulted in anything, big donors are so much larger (especially at the state level) that it doesn't matter.

Dr. Send: I don't see how this is supposed to make a significant difference if candidates can opt out.

Exactly - it's great to say you're running on principles, but that will generally lose to a shit-ton of money and campaign advertising blanketing airwaves, websites, telephone poles, etc.

No half measures - everyone plays by the same rules, or the playing field still isn't level.

(Now, let's do something about those shitty whisper campaigns and phone surveys that are designed to change voter views instead of collect them.)
posted by filthy light thief at 7:13 AM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, even the federal government had this for years, and it didn't do shit, did it? People could contribute optionally by putting in a few bucks on their taxes; a lot of people did, too, so there was plenty of money to be had. John McCain spent a few weeks pretending he was going to go by the public system, and use only public money, since I guess he was under the impression that his biggest and best legacy was campaign finance reform. Then his staffers convinced him otherwise, probably by pointing at the massive, massive amounts of cash Barack Obama was raising.

Opt-out systems will never work.
posted by koeselitz at 7:27 AM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


The FPP wasn't clear on this; how broad is the definition of "candidate"?
posted by notyou at 7:33 AM on February 12, 2016


This is the alternative to matching funds, which would simply fund a canidate to the same level as their opponent. This was declared an unconstitutional restriction on free speach by the Supreme Court in McComish v. Bennett, because giving money to the opposition is stifling to the free speech of the political donors who are actually cashing in their dividends to purchase mouthpieces in government.

I hope this goes better than the Massachusetts clean elections law, which was passed by referendum, the legislature refused to fund it, the campaigners started selling off state property to fund the program (lottery SUVs, House members funiture, etc.), the legislature put an extremely misleading referendum on the ballot and the law was repealed. Given that the referendum system tends to be more powerful in the west than the east, I have some hope. But if they can't get it funded, they should just remember to sell off the nice furniture in city hall first.
posted by Hactar at 7:46 AM on February 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


The residents will be spending their own money, as the program's subsidized through their taxes. using public funds.

FTFY.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:49 AM on February 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Holy mother of pearls: Did everyone in Seattle get property taxes raised by specifically a hundred dollars? I'll bet no.

Some maybe more, some less. Some not at all. So at a minimum, given the lack of one to one correspondence, it's not their own money. Unless all public funds belong to everyone.

There are various things to complain about regarding the financing of this, but let's avoid over simplifying for the sake of an ideological soundbite.
posted by hank_14 at 10:25 AM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's also not the case, though, that there's $100 per resident that can be allocated. From TFA:

The vouchers will be distributed to every voter in January 2017, but the program is only funded so that a maximum of 47,000 residents will be able to cash them in, said Robert Mahon, a former chairman of Seattle’s Ethics and Elections Commission.

It's basically a first come, first serve program, according to the article.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:30 AM on February 12, 2016


Some maybe more, some less. Some not at all. So at a minimum, given the lack of one to one correspondence, it's not their own money. Unless all public funds belong to everyone.

It is their own money because all public funds do belong to everybody. Who do you think public funds belong to?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:58 AM on February 12, 2016


Who do you think public funds belong to?

To the most privileged and powerful members of the public?
posted by MoonOrb at 11:01 AM on February 12, 2016


That's who they're used to benefit. I can see how that might cause confusion.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:04 AM on February 12, 2016


Of course the money belongs to everyone, but it wasn't their money in the beginning. My point is that there's a big difference between saying public funds belong to everyone and saying that the money belonged to any of them.
posted by hank_14 at 3:36 PM on February 12, 2016


I think it's a promising system, especially at the city level where the big money doesn't necessarily exist. I voted for it.

It'll be interesting to see how many candidates opt into it at the next council election. Of the current incumbents, the only sure-fire one is Sawant. I'd be shocked if she doesn't opt-in to this.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:08 AM on February 14, 2016


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