It’s no secret that money and donor influence has corroded the integrity of American government. The United States Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which found that corporations have a right to spend unlimited sums of money on elections, has become a euphemism for corporate overreach. But the rot is older than Citizens. A recent study of nearly 2,000 policy decisions between 1981 and 2002 found that “economic elites” strongly influence elected officials’ decisions, while ordinary citizens have “little or no independent influence on policy at all.” Translation: We live in a plutocracy where money talks. I-1464 alone will not solve this problem, but it is a big step in the right direction. It would close a loophole that allows political groups to launder their money through shell entities called political action committees (PACs), thus hiding the money’s origin from voters. It would also create a three-year waiting period before retired public officials could start lobbying their old offices, and lower the burden of proof for showing that a candidate illegally coordinated with “independent” PACs. But here’s the doozy: I-1464 would create a public campaign-finance program in which the government would issue “democracy vouchers” of up to $150 to qualifying candidates (Seattle passed similar legislation last year). How do they qualify? First, by getting at least 75 human individuals to contribute at least $10 each to their campaign (this is to weed out joke candidates) and second, by agreeing to limit other donations. The idea is to give candidates a financial stake in courting ordinary voters. The democracy credits would be funded by closing a tax loophole that currently allows some shoppers from other states to waive sales tax. By magnifying the fundraising power of grassroots candidates, democracy credits would make a small difference in big, well-funded elections and a big difference in smaller elections. I-1464’s other features would help keep those candidates honest once they’re in office. Vote yes for I-1464, because democracy matters.
Read the rest of Seattle Weekly’s endorsements for the 2016 general election here.