Seattle residents mailed nation's first publicly-financed vouchers for campaign donations

Democracy vouchers are being mailed to half a million Seattle residents beginning today, as part of the nation's first such program in public campaign financing.

Seattle residents who are registered voters will automatically receive four, $25 vouchers to use toward one of three city races in 2017. Those who are not registered to vote can apply to receive the vouchers, as long as they are legal, permanent residents of Seattle.

If you are a registered voter, you do not need to apply and will automatically receive your democracy vouchers by mail after January 3, 2017. If you are not a registered voter,
please read the following eligibility requirements here.

Since Seattle voters approved Initiative 122 in 2015, the Ethics and Elections Commission has been working out how to give out taxpayer-funded vouchers to voters beginning in 2017.

The 2017 races eligible to accept such vouchers will be the two at-large council positions and the city attorney.

The money for these vouchers is raised through increased property taxes that have already been levied beginning in 2016.

Here are some common questions about the program:

How much does this cost taxpayers?

The city levies $3 million a year for this democracy voucher program.

To get to that amount in 2017, the owner of a $500,000 house would pay $9.19 this year. That amount may change in future years, depending on the number of properties and their values. The goal is always to levy $3 million per year.

How do I make sure my money went to the right campaign?

Each voucher has a trackable bar code specific to each resident, and all voucher contributions are public information. Anyone can go to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission website to look up the amount you’ve donated to any campaign.

To ensure that you are handing the voucher to a legitimate representative of a campaign, you can check the same website for a registered list of representatives. Each campaign must register those people qualified to accept vouchers on its behalf. You can also mail the vouchers back to the ethics and election commission.

How do I know the campaign isn’t misusing the funds?

Candidates and campaigns need to follow all existing election rules, so that donations like this are used only for campaign expenses. Campaigns receiving these vouchers also agree to certain spending limits. The caps are different for each race. For the at-large council position, for example, one would be limited to spending $150,000 in a primary and $300,000 in total.

Candidates may not use democracy vouchers to pay family members.

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission oversees campaign activity and can audit campaign spending.

Legal residents who are not citizens cannot vote. But they can receive these vouchers. Why?

This is an existing federal rule, that non-voting, legal residents may still contribute to campaigns.

What happens if I lose my democracy vouchers?

You can contact the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to receive new vouchers via mail or email.

You will still only receive four, $25 vouchers to use this year. There will be another set of vouchers issued in two years for the next set of city races.

What happens if a candidate drops out, or a campaign ends before Election Day?

After the candidate pays all campaign debts and obligations, any remaining funds, up to the amount of the democracy vouchers redeemed by the candidate, will be considered unspent democracy voucher proceeds. These unspent funds must be refunded to the city.

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