In Seattle Common Cause & CLC File Brief in New Challenge to Citizen-Financed Elections

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  • David Vance

Today, Common Cause and the Campaign Legal Center filed an amici brief in Washington State’s King County Superior Court in Elster v. City of Seattle in support of the city’s campaign finance voucher program. The brief makes clear that the Seattle program is consistent with a host of other citizen-funded elections programs upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court since campaign finance reforms were enacted in the wake of the Watergate scandals to curb the buying and selling of influence in the halls of government.

“Beginning with our Founding Fathers, Americans have embraced the idea that citizens, not special interests, should decide election outcomes and since Watergate the Supreme Court has consistently recognized that citizen financing of elections advances, rather than impedes, the First Amendment right to free speech,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause. “Seattle residents made very clear at the polls that they don’t want their voices drowned out by special interests in their elections to select their representatives. This suit is just the latest in a series of challenges brought by special interests against citizen-funded election programs despite the fact that the Supreme Court has consistently upheld measures like Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program, recognizing the significant public benefit of such laws.”

“We are confident Seattle’s democracy voucher program is constitutional,” said Tara Malloy, senior director, appellate litigation and strategy, at Campaign Legal Center (CLC). “This program—like the public financing systems upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court—prevents political corruption and promotes greater citizen participation in elections. It was approved overwhelmingly by Seattle voters and has already resulted in dramatically more Seattle citizens this year giving political contributions than in past elections. City governments should be free to implement systems that make democracy more inclusive of everyday voters, many of whom can’t afford to cut six-figure checks to participate meaningfully in the political process.”

In a 2015 ballot initiative, Seattle voters passed I-122, “Honest Elections Seattle”, enacting several campaign finance measures to reform the financing of elections in the city. The $3 million annual program costs the average homeowner $11.50 per year and allows eligible city residents to give a total of $100 in campaign finance vouchers to the candidate(s) of their choice for the Seattle City Council or City Attorney in $25 increments.

In Buckley v. Valeo, a 1976 challenge to post-Watergate campaign finance reforms, the Supreme Court ruled that public campaign financing of elections “furthers, not abridges pertinent First Amendment values,” and the High Court has not wavered on citizen-financed election in the decades since.  

Amici are represented by local counsel and attorneys from the Campaign Legal Center.

To read the brief, click here.