The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) has lifted the $150,000 fundraising cap from candidates who use Democracy Vouchers in the City Council position 8 race, because a non-Democracy Vouched candidate has surpassed that amount in private fundraising.
Teresa Mosqueda and Jon Grant are the only two candidates for City Council position 8 (replacing Tim Burgess) who have raised enough small donations to qualify to participate in the inaugural voyage of Seattle’s Democracy Voucher public election financing program. Designed to dampen the effects of big money on political races, the vouchers are mailed to registered Seattle voters who can then donate them to participating candidates.
In order to participate, candidates must also pledge to not surpass the $150,000 fundraising limit (in primary Council elections). But there’s a loophole: if another candidate in the race surpasses $150,000 in private fundraising, then Democracy Voucher candidates can petition the SEEC for permission to do the same. If the petition is granted, then the $150,000 limit stays in place for redeemed Democracy Vouchers but is lifted for regular donations.
The candidate whose private fundraising broke the crystal ceiling is Sara Nelson, part owner of Fremont Brewing and and self-identified “business candidate.” Her campaign has raised more than $79,000, and the People for Sara Nelson PAC reports expenditures of more than $76,000. Together, those add up to more than $150,000.
In response, Grant and Mosqueda petitioned SEEC. “The material difference between Nelson’s fundraising and the spending limit now qualifies People for Teresa for consideration to be released from the spending limits per the Democracy Voucher program,” wrote Mosqueda campaign treasurer Abbot Taylor. “Our campaign petitions the SEEC to release Jon Grant from the $150,000 primary spending limit,” wrote Grant in his own letter.
Wednesday afternoon, the SEEC agreed. Both Mosqueda and Grant are now allowed to raise up to $150,000 in Democracy Vouchers and any amount of money in regular donations. The same would presumably apply to any other candidate for position 8 who qualifies for Democracy Vouchers and requests a waiver for the fundraising cap. Other races are unaffected.
However, a “burning question” remains, says SEEC director Wayne Barnett: whether money raised during the primary counts toward a candidates’ fundraising “total” in the general election in November. In August or September, he said, “the SEEC will look to take comment on what releasing the candidates from the primary spending limit means for the general. If either Mosqueda or Grant make it through, will they be held to $300,000 in total? $150,000 for the general?”