February 22, 2018

Seattle clashes with the First Amendment

By Ethan W. Blevins Attorney

Today, we filed the opening brief on appeal in Elster v. City of Seattle, our legal challenge to Seattle’s program that forces taxpayers to pay for private individuals’ campaign contributions. Seattle calls this a “democracy voucher” program.

Here’s how it works: the city hands out four $25 vouchers to each Seattle resident at the beginning of an election year. The voucher holder then decides which electoral candidates to donate that money to. The voucher funds in turn come from a special levy imposed on property owners for that sole purpose. In other words, the program forces property owners to underwrite other people’s political viewpoints.

This political donation tax clashes with the First Amendment principle that government cannot force you to support speech you oppose. As Thomas Jefferson put it: “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” We’re confident the court of appeals will agree with him.

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Elster v. City of Seattle, Washington

Representing Seattle residents and property owners, PLF sued to overturn Seattle’s ordinance mandating public campaign financing. Under the city’s “democracy voucher” program, each Seattle resident receives four $25 vouchers to support eligible candidates for local political office. The money to fund the voucher program is taken from the city’s property owners via a dedicated levy. The lawsuit argues that these compelled subsidies violate the First Amendment right to refrain from speaking – or funding the speech of another person.

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