Imagine a special tax was levied on newspapers to fund vouchers that people could use to buy Fox News Channel subscriptions. Would that impact free-press rights?
The new lawsuit challenging Seattle’s “democracy vouchers” [“Suit challenges city vouchers for campaign contributions,” NWThursday, June 29] makes such hypotheticals worth pondering.
The article on the lawsuit claims that “Under the complaint’s rationale, virtually any public financing of campaigns that relies on tax revenue would be impermissible.”
But the lawsuit makes a more nuanced argument. The funding mechanism for this voucher program is unusual — a special property tax was levied to pay for it. The law does not allow that tax to be used for any other purpose.
The voucher law allows the program to be funded from general city funds. But that option is not being used. The lawsuit hasn’t challenged the use of general funds.
There are important First Amendment questions raised by the poorly drafted voucher law. Governments shouldn’t pass a special tax on a few to fund speech some oppose.
Hopefully, the court will agree.
This post originally ran in The Seattle Times on June 30th 2017.