What Would a Democracy Dollars Program Look Like in Evanston?
Has a voucher system like this been used in the past?
Yes! The most notable example is in Seattle, where a similar program was implemented for the first time in 2017 and has been used in the 2019 and 2021 local elections as well. Other cities like Albuquerque and Austin are considering their own model as well.
Why are we promoting Democracy Dollars rather than other campaign finance reform proposals, like a small donor match system?
There are many great ways to accomplish campaign finance reform, and we should keep our options open for the best fit for Evanston. For this day of action, however, we aim to give Evanston residents one concrete example of what reform could look like in their communities. We chose to model our Democracy Dollars program off of Seattle’s current voucher system because it has the greatest potential for equity in campaign contributions – people do not need to contribute any of their own money to donate to candidates here, so there is no financial barrier to this avenue for political participation.
What level of government is this for?
Our proposal is specifically targeted at the local level; these coupons could be used for city council or mayoral campaigns.
How would it be funded?
There are several avenues through which this program could be funded, and advocates, stakeholders, and policymakers would work to find the one that makes the most sense for Evanston. Previous incarnations of similar programs have taken different approaches to funding. Seattle’s program was funded through property taxes, while the For the People Act’s proposed public financing reform (at the Congressional level) slightly increases some criminal fines and civil penalties collected by the federal government. Importantly, these penalties remain confined largely to white-collar corporate penalties and very wealthy individuals in the highest tax bracket.
Since our campaign is largely centered around laying groundwork and starting discussions about this issue, we don’t have an exact answer. However, it’s clear that there are ways to effectively fund this kind of program, based in small tax hikes but also in non-taxation methods. To us, a fitting method for funding would involve a tax increase or other measure that targets the richest individuals and companies; since the aim of this program is to combat big money in local politics and promote equity, we should be looking to fund it with the same eye on equity.
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