Today, Free Speech For People released a new issue report on The Impact of Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program on Candidates’ Ability to Rely on Constituents for Fundraising.
In 2015, Seattle voters enacted a novel democracy voucher program for public campaign financing. The objective of this analysis was to examine whether the democracy voucher program, first used in the 2017 election, led to candidates relying more on constituents, as opposed to non-constituent donors from other parts of the state or country, for their campaign funding. As we have explained, when political candidates rely on non-constituent donors for a significant portion of their campaign funding, democratic self-government may be affected because the policies and preferences of non-constituent donors often differ from those of constituents.
The results indicate that candidates who chose to participate in the voucher program raised a notably higher percentage of their funds from constituents than the typical percentages raised in pre-voucher elections, or by non-voucher-funded 2017 candidates. Before the voucher program, recent candidates for Seattle city office generally raised 65-80% of their funds from in-city. In the first voucher election, the two citywide (at-large) city council positions up for election saw a dramatic increase in the percentage of contributions from Seattle residents, with 93% or more of contributions coming from in-city. The city attorney candidate who participated in the voucher program saw a similar increase into the 90% in-city range from 2009 to 2017. In contrast, candidates who did not use the voucher program—either because they chose not to participate in the program, or ran in the mayoral race, which was not eligible for vouchers—raised funds in-city consistent with pre-voucher levels.
The overall trend is clear. The democracy voucher program enables candidates to raise the vast majority of their funds from constituents, as opposed to out-of-city donors.
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