The opponents of Honest Elections Seattle, I-122, have repeated, in the King County voters’ pamphlet, the same facepalm-inducing falsehoods that I’ve already corrected. They also introduce a new claim—a gobsmackingly offensive and nonsensical one. I-122, it says:

“- Bars many minority-owned small businesses from participating in the political process.”

Yet I-122 says not one single word about minority-owned small businesses. This claim is a whopper ginned up to frighten and confuse voters. It has no basis in reality.

I-122 would give all registered voters in Seattle, including small business owners, $100 of Democracy Vouchers to support candidates of their choice. That’s a radically democratizing plan, one that will amplify the voices of people of color and low-income families. Indeed, the egalitarian appeal of Democracy Vouchers helps explain why so many organizations that speak for people of color have endorsed it, including:

Asian Pacific American Coalition for Equality

Asian Pacific Islander Coalition

Casa Latina

El Centro de la Raza

Progreso: Latino Progress

Seattle King County NAACP

It’s hard to even come up with an explanation for such hot garbage. But I sat and thought about it for a while, setting aside my sense of indignation at the naked offensiveness of the proposition. Eventually, I came up with one shaky hypothesis that the opponents of I-122 might have had in mind.

I-122 bans contributions from those who spend heavily ($5,000 or more per year) on lobbying city hall and those who earn big money ($250,000 every two years) from city contracts. In theory, some of the companies affected by these bans might be minority-owned (though, it’s unlikely they would be small). So, I checked.

  • Sightline looked up every company that would have been affected by the lobbyist and contractor contribution bans in recent elections, had they been in place. We checked Washington State’s online database of minority-owned small businesses—the registry where such companies sign up to qualify for programs designed to benefit them.

    The egalitarian appeal of Democracy Vouchers helps explain why so many organizations that speak for people of color have endorsed it.

    Of the seven companies that would have been banned from contributing by I-122 in the 2013 election cycle because they had spent more than $5,000 on lobbying city hall and actually made political contributions, not a single one of them was a minority-owned small business. All seven are, in fact, very large businesses, and all had huge amounts of money at stake in city policy disputes, which is why they spent big on lobbying and contributions—and which is why I-122 would have sidelined them during the fundraising season.

    The ubiquitous ridesharing network Lyft, for example, is not a minority-owned small business. Clise Properties, which owns and manages over three million square feet of real estate in downtown Seattle, is not a minority-owned small business. The Rental Housing Association, the trade association for Seattle landlords, is not a minority-owned small business. Cedar Grove Composting, billboard advertiser Clear Channel Outdoor, and industrial cement maker CalPortland are not minority-owned small businesses. And district-energy generator Seattle Steam (now called Enwave)? Nope. It is not a minority-owned small business either. Zero for seven so far.

    Of the 22 entities that would have been banned from contributing by I-122 in the 2013 and 2015 elections because they had earned more than $250,000 in city contracts over the preceding two years, how many are minority-owned small businesses? Let’s check. Here’s the list, in descending order, by size of contribution.

    That’s 29 companies lobbying or contracting in such ample quantities of money that they would have triggered I-122’s ban on contributions to candidates for city office. Of them, exactly one company is a minority-owned small business. One.

    Griffin, Hill and Associates delivers business support services to its clients. The firm earned more than $300,000 in city contracts between January of 2013 and June of 2015, by Sightline’s estimate, for advising Seattle Public Utilities on combined sewer overflow projects. It gave a grand total of $1,300 in the 2013 and 2015 elections combined, or about $650 per election. The company would not have been able to do that had I-122 been in force. Honest Elections Seattle would stop them, just like all other big-time contractors, from helping to pay for the campaigns of officials who oversee the agencies on which they depend for their livelihoods. That’s as it should be.

    But still, Carl Griffin and Joann Francis, the principals of the company, would have been able to donate $200 in Democracy Vouchers each election, assuming they are registered to vote in Seattle. That’s the opposite of barring them from “participation in the political process.” It’s encouraging participation.

    That’s the truth—something the opponents of Honest Elections Seattle seem little acquainted with.