Every Seattle voter now gets four vouchers to donate twenty-five dollars to a political campaign, and even the homeless can participate. A recent article in the American Prospect by its senior editor Eliza Newlin Carney highlights the Seattle program. Thanks to Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog for the link. Hasen has been a big supporter of similar schemes as you can read at his UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper titled, “Clipping Coupons for Democracy: An Egalitarian/Public Choice Defense of Campaign Finance Vouchers”. Take a look at this excerpt from the American Prospect article:
In municipal elections now unfolding in Seattle, by contrast, housing activist Jon Grant is collecting campaign contributions from a very different source—the city’s homeless encampments. Homeless donors are helping power Grant’s campaign for city council thanks to a new public financing program that gives every Seattle voter four vouchers worth $25 each, to hand out to candidates as they see fit.
Such is the dichotomy between the federal campaign-finance system, where unrestricted money reigns supreme, and the experiments in publicly funded, citizen-powered elections that are popping up around the country in cities, states, and municipalities like Seattle, Maine, and Montgomery County, Maryland.
According to that article, 13 states now have some kind of system for public financing of elections. But the voucher system in Seattle is unique and revolutionary as Rick Hasen explains in the abstract of his research paper written in 1996, way before the Seattle system was implemented, but which outlined how such a system could work:
This Article proposes a market-based alternative to our current unpopular regime for financing federal election campaigns. Under the proposal, each voter receives vouchers for federal elections to contribute either to candidates directly or to interest groups; with limited exceptions, only funds from the voucher system could be spent to support or oppose candidates for elected federal offices.
Using public choice theory, Professor Hasen argues that the voucher plan would promote an egalitarian political market in which each person has roughly equal political capital regardless of preexisting disparities in wealth, education, or organizational ability. After demonstrating that the current campaign finance regime favors wealthy and well-organized interests at the expense of the poor and those with diffuse interests, the author identifies four distinct benefits of the voucher proposal.
First, the voucher proposal minimizes the role of wealth in the political process and facilitates the organization of those individuals who currently lack political capital. Second, the proposal is likely to promote a stable transition to a more egalitarian political order and a more chaotic, though fairer, legislative process. Third, the voucher proposal’s market orientation registers the intensity of voter preferences well. Finally, the proposal has a realistic chance of being enacted and of passing constitutional muster.
The author concludes by demonstrating the superiority of the voucher plan under the four criteria to non-voucher public financing of Congressional campaigns, proportional representation, and group-based political solutions.