‘Democracy vouchers’

Gregory Krieg at CNN: “Democracy vouchers” could be coming to an election near you. Last week, more than 60% of Seattle voters approved the so-called “Honest Elections” measure, or Initiative 122, a campaign finance reform plan offering a novel way of steering public funds to candidates who are willing to swear off big money PACs.

For supporters, the victory — authorizing the use by voters of publicly funded “democracy vouchers” that they can dole out to favored candidates — marks what they hope will be the first step forward in a wide-ranging reform effort spreading to other cities and states in the coming year….

The voucher model also is “a one-two punch” for candidates, Silver said. “They become more dependent on their constituents because their constituents become their funders, and No. 2, they’re part of what I would call a ‘dilution strategy’ — you dilute the space with lots of small-dollar contributions to offset the undue influence of super PACs.”

How “democracy vouchers” work

Beginning next summer, Seattle voters are expected to begin receiving $100 from the city, parceled out in four $25 vouchers, to contribute to local candidates who accept the new law’s restrictions, including not taking funds from PACs, adhering to strict spending caps, and enacting greater transparency. Candidates can redeem the vouchers with the city for real campaign cash, which will likely flow from increased property taxes.

The reform effort began at the grassroots, but morphed into a slickly managed operation that spent nearly $1.4 million, with more than half of that flowing from groups outside the city.

Alan Durning, founder of the nonprofit sustainability think tank Sightline, is an architect of the Seattle initiative. He believes the campaign helped identify a key problem with other reform plans.

“We know that one of the strongest arguments against public funding for campaigns is the idea of giving tax dollars to candidates that you disagree with,” Durning told CNN. “There are a lot of people who hate the idea.”

Currently, most such programs offer to match with public funds small donations for candidates who meet a host of varying requirements. In these cases, taxpayer money goes directly from the government to the campaigns, limiting voters’ connection to the process.

“The benefit of vouchers … is you can think about it as giving the first $100 of your own taxes to the candidate that you prefer,” Durning explained. “Your money is going to the candidate you send it to — so it keeps the choice with the individual voter.”

He added that the use of vouchers can also help the approach appeal to conservative voters, who generally are supportive of voucher-type programs and choice.

But critics call that a misleading argument.

“You’re still taking money from people and giving it to politicians who they may not necessarily want to support,” said Patrick Basham, the founder and director of the Democracy Institute, a libertarian think tank.

“Now, if you, as Voter X, give your four $25 vouchers to Candidate Y, then that’s your choice, but only some of [the money] came from you. It also came from other people.”…(More)”