Seattle's 'democracy voucher' program questioned as candidates bring in more money than votes

Houston’s campaign gathered more vouchers by far than any other campaign, almost 14,000 vouchers worth $346,325. Yet he only managed to finish in sixth place with 4,535, 2.62 percent of the total vote based on the latest totals.

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA

Andrew Grant Houston, a candidate for Seattle Mayor and former City Council staffer, has managed to get more people to give him money through Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program than actually vote for him, in the process raising red flags. Since the start of the campaign, Houston was unlikely to advance to the general election. Though many candidates run with no chance of winning, few do so while bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds.

In 2015, Seattle voters approved a property tax of $3 million to fund the Democracy Voucher Program for 10 years. The Democracy Voucher Program gives each Seattle voter $100 in $25 vouchers to give out to ‘donate’ to the campaign of their choice.

Houston’s campaign gathered more vouchers by far than any other campaign, almost 14,000 vouchers worth $346,325. Yet he only managed to finish in sixth place with 4,535, 2.62 percent of the total vote based on the latest totals. He had more than 5,000 donors but is unlikely to pull in as many votes as donors.

Houston’s campaign doesn’t seem to have spent much of that money on trying to get elected. Receipts for the campaign so far show a lot of meals and purchases for non- campaign related items like headphones.

Over $100,000 of the money went to Prism Washington, AKA, Prism West, a consulting firm with a history of representing and promoting activist socialist candidates such as socialist Seattle City Council Member Tammy Morales, who advocated for riots during last summer's unrest.

Houston’s campaign focused on door-to-door canvassing to harvest the vouchers and employed an unusually large number of staffers, especially given the large amount of spending on consultants. The staffers were also unionized.

Houston campaign’s spending disclosures show only roughly $70,000 spent on online advertising, mailers, and other traditional voter outreach. No money was spent on TV or other media.

Former Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell and Current Council President Lorena Gonzalez, who earned the top two spots to advance to the November general election did not pay anything close to that for their consultants.

To put things in perspective, Gonzalez, raised $276,475 in voucher funds, spent more than $82,000 on TV, almost $60,000 on polls, and approximately $50,000 on direct mailers. Her consulting costs were a mere $24,000.

Harrell, who is on track to finish first in the primary, took in only $157,725 in voucher funds. Based on current voter totals, Houston spent $104.66 of voucher money per vote, Gonzalez spent $7.05 and Harrell spent just $3.22.

Colleen Echohawk and Jessyn Farrell who both finished above Houston but failed to make it to the top two for the general, raised about $300,000 in voucher money each.

Houston still had about $80,000 in hand as of a July 26 filing and more filings are not expected until next month. Houston’s spending on fundraising, staff and consultants has caused many to question if the whole campaign was an effort to make money rather than actually run for office.

Houston told The Center Square, "I don't think I would be running the democracy voucher program didn't exist."

Houston is paying off $60,000 in student loan debt and owes over $28,000 in back rent on his $1,695/month Capitol Hill apartment where he stopped paying rent at the start of the pandemic, despite still being paid as a staff member of Council Member Teresa Mosqueda.

According to The Washington Observer, The Democracy Voucher Program, combined with other changes in the city’s campaign finance laws have “moved a big chunk of the political spending in municipal elections onto the taxpayers’ dime. Meanwhile, the vouchers themselves are a kind of pseudo-money that has no other value to the holder. Persuading people to part with them is apparently much easier than asking for real cash.”

In addition to Houston’s campaign, eyes are now turning to his consulting firm and the company's principal partner Riall Johnson.

Prism worked on the disastrous campaign of Ubax Gaardheere for King County Council, who in 2010 threatened to blow up a school bus filled with children. Her campaign was dogged with questionable out of state contributions.

Prism was also paid $5,000 by Seattle City Council Candidate Nikkita Oliver, who is mired in allegations of fraud and worse. Oliver is one of the leaders of King County Equity Now (KCEN) and has advocated for defunding the police and for the money to be given to community groups. She also advocates for less prisons and releasing criminals. Recently, allegations of money mismanagement and fraud have been leveled against her organization. The Seattle City Council used a loophole to circumvent the bidding process and appropriated 3 million dollars to "non-profit" organizations that were part of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ).

The money appeared to be more of a political payoff to groups involved in the riots and armed occupation of the city, rather than an investment in the community. The money was funneled through the office Council Member Morales. Oliver was a supporter of the Morales campaign and Morales has endorsed Oliver’s campaign for council.

KCEN advocates for "Pay the Fee," where Seattle businesses, typically in the Central District, are supposed to pay King County Equity Now a fee for the privilege of doing business there.

Ian Eisenberg owner of Uncle Ike's pot shops told The Post Millennial regarding the riots that regularly vandalize his stores that "The groups that are encouraging this in Seattle, they're getting paid. They are getting money and property from the city. It's working so why wouldn't they consider doing it, I've been told so many times that if I gave money like a few years ago to the Black Book Club, my problems would go away. In other cities it is just called extortion."


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