Initiative 1464 is one of the most sweeping items on the ballot this November. It contains some extreme changes, and if passed, would result in a very different campaign finance system than we have now.
I-1464 attempts to do a few things, namely it speeds up the process by which individuals can sue over alleged campaign finance violations. However, it also creates what authors call “democracy credits,” which are three, $50 state-funded vouchers that registered voters and legal residents who are not eligible to vote, can contribute to state races every two years.
As novel as these ideas might seem, they create some disastrous consequences. Here are just a few:
Frivolous and Predatory Lawsuits
First, critics have rightly asserted that I-1464 would result in a cascade of frivolous lawsuits against campaigns, often by plaintiffs who don’t understand campaign finance law, or simply want to use it as a weapon to chew up their opponent’s time and resources. Additionally, this would seriously clog-up our already overburdened court systems, increasing costs and waiting times for legitimate cases while the frivolous ones are evaluated and eventually thrown out.(1)
Financially Motivated Prosecution
Second, I-1464 allows the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), which is the administrative branch tasked with enforcing campaign law compliance, to keep half of all penalties that it imposes for violations. Experts are concerned that this would create a perverse financial incentive to prosecute minor transgressions, with no regard to actually helping campaigns understand the law. This could be compared to a police department giving draconian traffic tickets for inconsequential violations like rolling stops or briefly crossing the center line during a turn, simply because they want the revenue.
The effect is that this would disproportionately harm small, local, and first time campaigners who don’t have the resources to fight lengthy court battles. On the other hand, entrenched politicians with large donors and political connections would be less likely targets for fines, giving them a huge advantage and perpetuating corruption.
More Money, Nastier Elections
Third, the voucher system that I-1464 creates is riddled with opportunities for fraud and abuse. Writers claim that the measure is intended to get “big money” out of politics, when in fact this adds up to $600 million in public funds to the process.(2) With so much money sitting on the table, there is a nasty incentive to make short-term promises to voters in exchange for immediate cash. Frighteningly, the initiative also allows non-citizen residents of Washington who are not allowed to vote to contribute their voucher money to a candidate.
Finally, the measure allows politicians to pay themselves “lost wages” using campaign voucher money, meaning that taxpayer funds would essentially be used to pay professional politicians to campaign. Leftover cash can then be donated to political parties and used to enrich consultants and pay for nasty advertising.
Washington State already has one of the most transparent campaign finance systems in the country, and Initiative 1464 is only a distraction meant to further entrench powerful interests. Washington voters should soundly reject it in November.
(1) Center for Competitive Politics, 2016
(2) The Daily News, 2016;