A new paper about Seattle’s campaign finance voucher program, from Brian McCabe and Jennifer Heerwig. I’m looking forward to reading this one.
In this paper, we evaluate whether an innovative new campaign finance program in Seattle, Washington shifted the composition of campaign donors in local elections. In 2015, voters in Seattle approved the creation of the Democracy Voucher program with the intent of broadening representation in the campaign finance system and expanding participation from marginalized communities. Every registered voter in Seattle was provided with four, twenty-five-dollar vouchers that they could, in turn, assign to the local candidate(s) of their choice. Through an analysis of the inaugural implementation of the program in 2017, we investigate whether this innovative public financing system increased participation, broadened involvement from underrepresented groups and led to a donor pool that was more representative of the electorate. Compared to cash donors in the municipal election, we report that voucher users are less likely to be high-income and more likely to come from poor neighborhoods. While older residents are over-represented among voucher users, there is little difference in the racial composition of cash donors and voucher users. Our analysis confirms that the Democracy Voucher program successfully moved the donor pool in a more egalitarian direction, although it remains demographically unrepresentative of the electorate. The lessons from Seattle’s inaugural implementation offer key insights for other municipalities considering public financing policies, and these lessons have the potential to reshape the national policy debate about the influence of political money.