Seattle gives voters $100 of their own money back in "democracy vouchers"

“There’s a sucker born every minute,” P.T. Barnum once observed, but the rate may be considerably higher in Seattle. Yesterday the city began distributing “democracy vouchers” to voters in the city, $100 each in coupons of $25 to donate to qualified candidates running for city offices. Sounds good, right? It’s free money! Well, no, it’s not — except for the politicians who get more coin in their coffers as a result. Seattle’s CBS affiliate KIRO-TV covered the launch:

Where does this money originate? Seattle hiked its property taxes a year ago to fund these “democracy vouchers,” as KING-5 reminds its viewers:

The Democracy Voucher program came as a result of a vote for a property tax increase in 2015. That increase funded the program that hopes to help bring out the best candidates for the top public offices in this city. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, a nonpartisan, independent agency of the city of Seattle, administers the Democracy Voucher program.

Each registered voter will get $100 assigned to their name, and if they do not use it, they lose it. You can only give your donation to participating candidates who take all the proper steps to run for office.

Let’s recap this process, shall we? Seattle politicians raised property taxes and converted part of the funds into city scrip that can only be spent on … Seattle politicians. And if voters don’t spend it on Seattle politicians, then the money ends up in the hands of … Seattle politicians. Even critics have to be impressed with a scam designed that efficiently.

Why is it a scam? When this money was still in the hands of voters, they could choose to spend it on campaign contributions if they liked, without the voucher process to mandate it. Clearly politicians wanted to increase their cut and force people to participate in the process whether they wanted to do so or not.

Furthermore, this is even more egregious because of the tax basis that produces the revenue to fund it. Seattle is taking the money only from property owners and then distributing it to a wider group of people for the purpose of electoral activism, essentially forcing them to fund political candidates they may oppose. That’s different than the voluntary check-boxes on state tax returns that allow taxpayers to fund public financing in campaigns if they choose to do so. Seattle is extracting this cash by force of tax law with the sole intention of using it for financing political candidates. One has to wonder whether courts would approve of such a scheme if property owners filed a challenge to it.

It’s worth noting that voters in the state of Washington saw through this a little better than Seattle residents did, rejecting it with 53% of the vote in November. Free citizens don’t need “democracy vouchers” to support the candidates of their choice — and shouldn’t be forced into the system if they choose not to support anyone at all.

Addendum: I wonder how many of the voters and politicians who put “democracy vouchers” in place oppose school vouchers to allow parents the choice of where their children get educated? I’d guess that the Venn diagram on that would have very little intersection at all.

Update: KIRO is the CBS affiliate, not the ABC affiliate as I first wrote. KOMO is the ABC affiliate. Thanks to Gray Wolf for the correction.