Seattle sued for ‘political-enrichment tax’

Mark Elster

Mark Elster

The city of Seattle has been sued for a new “political enrichment tax” that takes money from property owners and enriches local political candidates.

But it violates the First Amendment, forcing property owners to subsidize political messages whether they agree with them or not, contends the complaint filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation.

The first of its kind in the country, the legal team explained that during each local election cycle, Seattle residents are each entitled to four $25 “democracy vouchers,” which they can contribute to candidates for city council and city attorney.

The funding comes from a new property tax levied specifically for the program.

“Candidates must abide by spending limits, among other mandates, to be eligible. The program will eventually be extended to the mayor’s race,” Pacific Legal said.

The program conflicts with the First Amendment, the complaint argues, because the city of Seattle “compels property owners to sponsor the partisan political speech of city residents.”

“Indeed, ‘democracy voucher’ is mere euphemism for a law that operates in effect as a politician enrichment tax,” said Pacific Legal.

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The suit, filed in King County Superior Court, is on behalf of two of the thousands of Seattle property owners “forced to pay the voucher tax and underwrite donations to politicians whether they support them or not.”

WND’s call to the mayor’s office requesting comment did not generate a response.

“The so-called ‘democracy vouchers’ could not be more undemocratic or unconstitutional,” PLF attorney Ethan Blevins said in a statement. “First Amendment rights include both the right to speak and the right not to speak. You can’t be forced to engage in political expression or advocacy that is contrary to your convictions.

Blevins said the voucher program “suspends that liberty.”

“It’s about coercion, not free choice. The voucher tax conscripts property owners into footing the bill for other people’s donations. It forces them to fund contributions, candidates and causes they might not favor,” he said.

He pointed out that most of the vouchers that had been donated as of June 7 went to tenant activist Jon Grant, an advocate for collective bargaining for renters.

“So rental property owners are forced to bankroll a politician who is adverse to their rights and their interests,” Blevins said.

The plaintiffs are Mark Elster and Sarah Pynchon.

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Elster lives in a single-family home he owns in Seattle.

“This program is so patently and obviously unfair,” he said. “The democracy voucher program puts other people’s political beliefs into my mouth, so to speak. It does so by taking my money, through taxes, and bestowing it on others so they can make contributions to candidates who might disagree with me diametrically. That’s wrong, and it’s unconstitutional.”

Pynchon rents out a single-family home that she owns in Seattle. However, her own residence is outside of the city, so, even while she is helping to pay for the program, she is not eligible to receive democracy vouchers herself.

“As currently structured, the vouchers could be used to elect people who will continue to put financial burdens on outnumbered property owners, a form of taxation without representation,” she said.

The program clashes with a U.S. Supreme Court precedent stipulating “a student cannot be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance,” the complaint explains.

The court’s comment was, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith herein.”

Pacific Legal said that means the right against compelled speech “also includes a right to refrain from financially supporting speech.”

The law allows Seattle to collect $3 million per year for 10 years from taxpayers and give it away, the complaint notes.

The complaint seeks a ruling that the city’s election funding plan is unconstitutional and an injunction preventing its application.

“Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare Is Becoming Our Reality” chronicles how America has arrived at the point of being a de facto police state, and what led to an out-of-control government that increasingly ignores the Constitution. Order today!

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