Washington Supreme Cour Rules in Favor of “Democracy Voucher”

Free Speech for People

July 11, 2019 by Ed Erikson

The Washington Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to the Honest Elections Seattle initiative (I-22), which created the city’s “democracy voucher” program. The public campaign financing program, instituted in 2015 and first used two years later, provides eligible Seattle residents with four $25 vouchers that they can use to support the candidates of their choice running for city office. Today’s decision in Elster v. City of Seattle upheld the legality of the program against a claim that it supposedly violated the constitutional rights of landowners.

“This is a huge victory for the people of Seattle,” said Ron Fein, Legal Director of Free Speech For People. “The democracy voucher program is a home run for both democracy and the First Amendment: it gives more people a political voice and encourages more people to run for office while silencing no one. The Washington Supreme Court rightly rejected the idea that empowering citizens is against the Constitution.”

“Today’s ruling is a victory for a democracy where the strength of our voices doesn’t depend upon the size of our wallets,” said Demos Senior Counsel Adam Lioz.  “Seattle’s innovative democracy voucher program helps ensure that a diverse range of residents drive local public election campaigns—not a narrow slice of the wealthiest donors, who are overwhelmingly white.  Seattle is a stronger, fairer democracy because of the voucher program. Cities and states across the country should move forward with similar programs now that the Washington Supreme Court has confirmed the clear constitutionality of empowering residents to direct limited public funding for election campaigns through ‘democracy dollar’ programs.”

Demos and Free Speech For People filed an amicus curiae brief defending the democracy voucher program on behalf of the coalition of local and national organizations that helped pass the initiative: Washington CAN!, Asian Counseling and Referral Service, Every Voice, Fuse, LGBTQ Allyship, OneAmerica, the Washington Democracy Hub, Washington Public Interest Research Group, and Win Win Network.

The brief presented an empirical analysis showing that the democracy voucher program helped enhance both political equality and democratic self-government by enabling Seattle candidates, including women and people of color, to run for office without relying on wealthy (often out-of-town) donors.

Saturday, July 20 Panel Discussion a Huge Success

Those who battled the summer doldrums and midday heat to attend New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics’ Saturday, July 20 General Meeting were in for a special treat. The panel discussion featuring NM Senators Peter Wirth and Nancy Rodriguez and NM House Reps Andrea Romero and Daymon Ely was nothing less than stirring and scintillating. And so was the Q & A session that followed.

Our state elected officials candidly shared with us their feeling of satisfaction over the  success of the 2019 legislative session that was such a stark contrast with the immense frustration and disappointment that they had experienced in prior years. Freshman Rep. Andrea Romero expressed her exhilaration over being a contributor to the passage of 15 bills.  The panelists talked about the journey through the legislature of Senator Wirth’s campaign finance disclosure bills that brought additional levels of transparency to the campaign process, the tremendous success of the National Popular Vote bill that Senator Rodriguez had co-sponsored, and the passage of the early voting and same-day voting bills that will make exercising the right to vote so much easier for more New Mexicans.

They  also discussed some of the bills pertaining to other democracy reform issues that did not make it to the Governor’s desk.  Sen. Ely mentioned that he was disappointed that the open primaries bill he sponsored didn’t pass but said he believed it could do so in the near future.  Looking ahead to the 2020 and 2021 sessions, our panelists expressed hope for and confidence in the ability to secure adoption of legislation restricting the “revolving door” between the legislature and lobbying and increasing the reach of public campaign finance in the state to counter the effect of private large money donations.

Our panelists clearly enjoyed the opportunity to speak and exchange ideas with us constituents, and the audience was extremely appreciative for that opportunity.  It was something that we can and must do again. I want to thank again our panelists and the people who came to attend the discussion for making it such a special event.

— John House, President

Fair Elections Now Act to be Reintroduced in the Senate

The Fair Elections Now Act (the small donor focused public financing bill that was included in HR1) is being reintroduced by Senator Durbin next week. It will likely drop Tuesday or Wednesday.

Senator Durbin’s Fair Elections Now Act would help restore public confidence in the Congressional election process by providing qualified candidates for the U.S. Senate with grants, matching funds, and vouchers from the Fair Elections Fund to replace campaign fundraising that largely relies on large donors and special interests. In return, participating candidates would agree to limit their campaign spending to the amounts raised from small-dollar donors plus the amounts provided from the Fund.

This voluntary alternative would free participating candidates from the incessant, time-consuming money chase that has tainted public perceptions of elected officials and fostered abuses that undermine our democracy. Through a viable, competitive public financing system, the Fair Elections Now Act would allow candidates to instead devote their time to effectively representing their constituents and solving our nation’s critical problems.

The Fair Elections Now Act amends the Federal Elections Campaign Act of 1971 to establish a voluntary method for financing Senate campaigns. The Fair Elections system is composed of three stages:

To participate, candidates would first need to prove their viability by raising a minimum number and minimum dollar amount of small-dollar qualifying contributions from in-state donors. Once acandidate qualifies, that candidate must limit the amount raised from each donor to $200 per

For the primary, participants would receive a base grant that would vary in amount based on the population of the state that the candidate seeks to represent. Participants would also receive a 6-to-1 match for small-dollar donations up to a defined matching cap. After reaching that cap, thecandidate could raise an unlimited amount of unmatched $200 contributions if needed to compete against high- spending opponents, as well as contributions from small-donor People

For the general election, qualified candidates would receive an additional grant, small-dollarmatching, and media vouchers for television advertising. The candidate could continue to raise an unlimited amount of $200 contributions if needed, as well as contributions from small-donor People PACs. The candidate could also opt to request additional small-dollar matching funds in the period just before the general

The bill also creates a type of small-donor political action committee, known as a “People PAC.” In   contrast to traditional federal PACs that can accept contributions of up to $5000 per year from individuals  or Super PACs that can accept unlimited contributions, People PACs would only be permitted to accept contributions of $200 or less per election from individuals. People PACs would thus allow average citizens an opportunity to make their collective voices heard. Small donors would be able to aggregate their funds in a People PAC to make campaign contributions of up to $5000 per election to qualified Fair Elections candidates. Coupled with the Fair Elections public financing system, People PACs would elevate the views and interests of a diverse spectrum of Americans, rather than those of the traditional, wealthy donorclass.

Special rules would apply for runoff and uncontested elections. Participating candidates would receive enough funding to compete in every election, without having to spend most of their time raising money.

Fair Elections would not add a dime to the deficit. It would be financed by a 0.5 percent fee on federal contracts over $10 million, capped at $500,000 per taxable year.

At this critical moment in our nation’s history, our elected leaders in Washington must dedicate every available moment to solving our nation’s challenges. Our leaders must have the trust of the American people that their decisions will benefit all Americans, not just wealthy special interests.

GOP Mega-Donors Pour Money into Trump Campaign


Some of the same donors who bankrolled anti-Trump efforts in 2016 are at the center of the president’s reelection.
By ALEX ISENSTADT<https://www.politico.com/staff/alex-isenstadt>

07/16/2019 12:38 AM EDT

President Donald Trump savaged the mega-donor class during his 2016 campaign. Now, he’s turning to them to bankroll his 2020 effort.
The Trump political machine raked in $108 million for his campaign and the Republican National Committee during the second fundraising quarter, and the massive haul was fueled in no small part by some of the Republican Party’s biggest givers, according to filings released Monday evening.
An array of donors forked over six-figure checks, and over a dozen gave Trump Victory Committee — a joint fundraising venture with the Republican National Committee — the maximum allowed $360,000.
The list of those giving the highest allowed amount included Nebraska mega-donor Marlene Ricketts, who helped to bankroll the multimillion-dollar effort to stop Trump from winning the 2016 Republican nomination. Since then, the Ricketts clan has become supportive of the president, with Ricketts’ son, Todd, serving as RNC finance chairman.
The roster of max-out givers also included Linda McMahon, the former WWE executive who this spring stepped down from her post as head of the Small Business Administration to chair the principal pro-Trump super PAC. In that role, McMahon has been charged with courting mega-donors who can cut big checks.
Trump is slated to court major contributors on Friday, when he’ll host a fundraiser at his Bedminister golf course.
The Trump campaign and RNC is using its war chest to build a sprawling national apparatus<https://www.politico.com/story/2018/12/18/trump-machine-swallows-rnc-1067875>, complete with field deployment to swing states and a voter registration effort. With Democrats locked in a messy primary that could drag on well into 2020, the president’s team is looking to get a head start on the general election.
COUNTDOWN TO 2020<https://www.politico.com/newsletters/2020-elections>

The Trump political operation reported having over $123 million cash on hand – funds party officials would like to direct toward shoring up his standing in the all-important Rust Belt<https://www.politico.com/story/2019/05/20/trump-2020-rust-belt-joe-biden-1332973> and expanding the map into traditionally blue states.<https://www.politico.com/story/2019/06/04/trump-campaign-2020-election-map-1352437>
“As enthusiasm for this President continues to grow, these resources ensure President Trump and Republicans up and down the ballot are in a strong position to win heading into 2020,” Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, said in a statement released just before the filings were made public.
After shunning Trump in the 2016 GOP primary, the big donor class is now warming to him. His campaign has launched a bundling program<https://www.politico.com/story/2019/04/22/trump-campaign-donors-1283459> which allows high-powered Republicans to tap into their expansive networks for cash. And Vice President Mike Pence has been quietly wooing<https://www.politico.com/story/2019/03/21/pence-trump-campaign-donors-election-1230494> many of the Republican Party’s biggest givers, some of whom virulently opposed him in 2016.
Some of the high-dollar contributors are familiar to the president. The list of six-figure givers included several longtime Trump friends, including investor Howard Lorber, Marvel Entertainment Chairman Ike Perlmutter, and Las Vegas casino executive Phil Ruffin.

Senator Udall to Introduce the EMPOWER Act of 2019

Senator Tom Udall’s office has issued a press release announcing that he will introduce into the Senate a new bill entitled the EMPOWER Act of 2019.  The act is not yet posted on www.congres.gov, but watch for it to come out sometime within the next couple of weeks.

Core Provisions of the Empowering Mass Participation to Offset the Wealthy’s Electoral Role (EMPOWER) Act:

– Eliminates spending limits on participating candidates: Candidate spending limits are no longer viable in the wake of Citizens United since outside groups can now make unlimited expenditures funded by unlimited contributions to oppose candidates. There would be a limit on the total amount of matching contributions available to a presidential candidate, to avoid draining public funds.

– Increases the amount of matching funds for participating candidates: The first $250 of contributions by individuals to presidential candidates would be matched with public funds at a 6:1 ratio, increased from the current 1:1 match. For example, a candidate participating in the system would receive $1,500 in public funds for a $250 contribution, and would end up with a total of $1,750. This would provide important new incentives for citizens to give and for candidates to seek small donations from supporters.

– Requires participating candidates to agree to accept contributions of no more than $1,000: The current individual contribution limit of $2,700 per donor, per election, would be reduced to $1,000 per donor, per election, for candidates who participate in the system. The present contribution limit would remain unchanged for candidates who do not participate in the system.

– Empowers national parties to compete alongside Super PAC dollars: In order to allow candidates to respond to a deluge of Super PAC dollars, national parties could make unlimited expenditures in coordination with candidates participating in the system, provided the unlimited expenditures were made from a pool of contributions raised by the party that was limited to $1,000 per donor, per year.

– Increases funding for the presidential campaign financing system: The bill would increase the current voluntary income tax “check-off” amount from $3 to $20 per individual and from $6 to $40 for a married couple, and index these amounts for inflation. Additionally, the bill would allow Americans, through their taxes, to donate to the public financing system fund.”