Democracy Dollars FAQs

Do I vote on Prop H (Democracy Dollars) separately from any other propositions or issues?

Yes. Prop H is one of 8 very different, distinct propositions on the May 2021 ballot.

Each Proposition (A-H) is voted on separately. Austinites for Democracy Dollars supports only Prop H; we do not a position on any other ballot measures except Prop H Democracy Dollars.

Do Democracy Dollars programs work?

Yes!

In areas where Democracy Dollars has been implemented it has proven to be very successful.  Democracy Dollars: 1) tripled the number of donors; 2) increased the diversity of donors (women, people of color, low income, and young); 3) increased turnout with infrequent voters being four times more likely to vote in an election if they had donated Democracy Dollars; and 4) enabled independent, non-wealthy candidates to run (almost 50% of candidates surveyed reported that they may not have run but for Democracy Dollars). (See the reports in our Resources section).

Why Do We Need Democracy Dollars?

A few wealthy Austinites and special interests dominate contributions to the council candidates. This undermines the voices of most Austinites and our 10-1 system of geographic representation.

Out of 44 Austin zip codes, 3 provide 43% of all contributions! Democracy Dollars will give more voters in more parts of Austin an opportunity to invest in the candidate who represents them best.

Do people with different political affiliations support Democracy Dollars?

Yes, Democracy Dollars empowers everyone’s voices.

Democracy Dollars allows the voter to decide which candidate gets their contribution, not the government. Every registered voter gets 2 $25 Democracy Dollar vouchers, and each voter decides individually which candidate, if any, receives their voucher. The voter choses to give to the candidate that best reflects their values and interests.

How is Democracy Dollars different than the current Austin Fair Campaign Fund?

It is a modern, effective program unlike Austin’s current system adopted in 1994.

Democracy Dollars increases the voices of all Austinites and reduces the influence of special interests, unlike the current system. Democracy Dollars is a state-of-the art program based on the latest research and Supreme Court case law. Registered voters choose who gets their $25 Democracy Dollars, unlike the Austin Fair Campaign Fund, where the City gives a lump sum to any qualifying candidate who makes it into a runoff. Because candidates have to ask their district’s registered voters for their Democracy Dollars, public participation is integral to the program.

How do candidates qualify? How do you ensure frivolous candidates don’t receive vouchers?

Council candidates must qualify to receive Democracy Dollars by showing community support.

They must receive $10 or more contributions from at least 150 residents and get signed petitions exclusively supporting their candidacy from the number of district residents based on 1% of the district’s mayoral turnout. Democracy Dollars Charter Amendment, Article 3, Section 10 (D)(3) (p. 5). In addition, voters decide whether to give a candidate their Democracy Dollars, not the City.

How much will it cost?

Around 2/100th of 1% of the City’s 2021 operating budget.

The program’s annual administrative cost is $350,000, which is primarily for mailing the $25 vouchers to registered voters. This cost will be significantly reduced in the future by using the internet to deliver the vouchers.

The two $25 vouchers are funded by City monies of at least $500,000. The sources are candidate and lobbyist filing fees, a potential voluntary utility check off, and reductions in special interest tax breaks and inefficiencies.  For example, the Domain Center (which has made enormous profits) receives approximately a $1.5 million annual tax break from the City of Austin, even though a District Court held the City may discontinue the tax giveaway. There is a long list of wasted and unnecessary funds cited in City Auditor reports and news stories, such as the City’s $3 million aborted website redesign.

What checks on fraud and abuse are there?

There are lots of strict safeguards.

Democracy Dollars Charter Amendment, Article 3, Section 10 (D)(6)-(9) (pp. 5-7). Only registered voters based on the latest registration rolls receive vouchers and each voucher has a unique number identification. Democracy Dollars Charter Amendment, Article 3, Section 10 (C)(1)-(2) (pp. 1-2). The city clerk must verify the signature on each voucher before a candidate may receive the $25. Democracy Dollars Charter Amendment, Article 3, Section 10 (D)(7)(pp 5-6).

The vouchers may not be transferred or assigned for any purpose other than for a qualified candidate’s campaign. Democracy Dollars Charter Amendment, Article 3, Section 10(C)(3)-(4) (p. 3). Misuse of the voucher constitutes both theft of government property under state law as well as a violation of city law. See Democracy Dollars Charter Amendment, Article 3, Section 10 ((C)(4) (p. 3). Candidates who misspend the funds must return the funds. . Democracy Dollars Charter Amendment, Article 3, Section 10 (D)(8)-(9) (pp. 6-7)

Won’t the system cost millions and have no funding limits?

No.

We know this isn’t true from Seattle’s experience. The charter amendment requires Council to appropriate $500,000 a year for the program. If more vouchers are redeemed than the available money, the value of the voucher is reduced proportionally. . Democracy Dollars Charter Amendment, Article 3, Section 10 (G)(6)(pp.9-10). So,  if the city clerk projects $1 million in vouchers are likely redeemed, and only $500,000 in funding is available, the vouchers will be reduced in value to $12.50 each. The funding is strictly limited.

Is Democracy Dollars constitutional?

Absolutely.

Democracy Dollars has been specifically held to be constitutional by the courts. The Washington Supreme Court unanimously upheld a  similar Democracy Dollars program. Elster v. City of Seattle, 444 P.3d 590 (Wash. 2019). The United States Supreme Court recently refused to hear the case, without any dissent, which “means the public financing program is safe for the foreseeable future. It also gives a legal green light to other jurisdictions thinking of adopting a version of this important program.” Harrow and Nyart, “Supreme Court Right to Uphold Seattle Democracy Vouchers" The  Hill (April 3, 2020)

The United States Supreme has upheld public financing of campaigns for many years.  In the bedrock case of Buckley v Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, 92-93 (1976), the Supreme Court held public financing was constitutional, concluding it was intended “not to abridge, restrict, or censor speech, but rather to use public money to facilitate and enlarge public discussion and participation in the electoral process, goals vital to a self- governing people.”

Big donations of $200 or more make up 81% of council contributions! We can fix this unfair system and ensure all have a voice: we can adopt Prop H, Democracy Dollars, on the May 2021 ballot.

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