Frequently Asked Questions

General

How would the Democracy Dollars program work?


The Austin Ethics Commission distributes Democracy Dollars to eligible Austin residents. Each eligible resident receives two $25 Democracy Dollar certificates for each municipal race that will appear on their ballot that year.

Residents give their Democracy Dollars to participating eligible candidates by writing in the candidate’s name, the date, and signing each certificate. Residents then send the Dollars to the candidate or the Austin Ethics Commission.

The Austin Ethics Commission verifies the authenticity of each certificate before releasing funds to the candidates. All Democracy Dollar transactions would be public information including the name of the “donor” and the recipient candidate.




Who would be eligible to receive and use Democracy Dollars?


All Austin residents who are eligible to register to vote are eligible to receive and use Democracy Dollars.

All registered voters will automatically receive Democracy Dollars.

Any Austin resident who is eligible to register to vote may request their Democracy Dollars. An eligible Austin resident does not need to register to vote to receive and use Democracy Dollars. Residents must supply documentation of residence and, after being verified by the Austin Ethics Commission, will be sent Democracy Dollars.

No resident outside Austin, no corporation or other non-human entity, no person under the age of 18 years, and no person ineligible to vote under state law, may receive a Democracy Dollars certificate.




Have other cities implemented this program?


Yes, Seattle led the charge in implementing this innovative program to ensure that every voice was heard during city election campaigns. Seattle city campaigns had historically been funded disproportionately by rich, white donors.

Once the Democracy Voucher program was implemented, the donor universe better reflected Seattle's population, bringing in more young people, women, people of color, and less affluent residents.




Why use a public financing system like Democracy Dollars in Austin?


The Democracy Dollars program will give all Austinites equal opportunity to participate in city elections and to make their voices heard.

The program will empower candidates who are superbly qualified with strong community ties – but will little access to wealth and wealthy donors – to run viable city campaigns and win public office.




What will Democracy Dollars certificates look like?


While Austin’s Democracy Dollars have not yet been designed, below is an example of Seattle’s certificate, which passed its similar program in 2015, and used in its 2017 election cycle.

Seattle Democracy Voucher Sample




When will this program be available to me?


If passed, the Democracy Dollars Program will be implemented in time for the 2022 election cycle.





Candidates

Which candidates qualify to receive Democracy Dollars?


To ensure that only well-qualified candidates with strong community support receive Democracy Dollars, a participating candidate must:

  • Gather at least 400 petition signatures and qualifying contributions of at least $10 for Mayoral candidates;

  • Gather at least 150 petition signatures and qualifying contributions of at least $10 for City Council candidates;

  • Agree to take part in at least three public debates for general elections and three for runoff elections;

  • Agree to comply with campaign laws and contribution limits;

  • Agree to not give their campaign a contribution (including a loan) greater than the individual contribution limit;

  • And agree to not knowingly solicit money themselves or through an agent for or on behalf of any political action committee, political party, or any organization that will make an independent expenditure for or against any City of Austin candidate within the same election cycle.




Why are the qualifications for candidates important?


Requiring candidates to meet certain qualifications to receive Democracy Dollars ensures that valuable taxpayer resources are distributed only to those candidates with demonstrated community support. Any candidate can raise campaign funds privately, but a public finance system has the responsibility to ensure taxpayer dollars are expended only upon those candidates who demonstrate responsibility in handling such campaign funds.




Does Democracy Dollars affect which candidates are on the ballot?


No. The Democracy Dollars program does not affect your ability to vote for a candidate or a candidate’s ability to be on the city election ballot.




How can candidates use Democracy Dollars?


Candidates may use Democracy Dollar Voucher funds only to pay their own campaign costs or debts.

Candidates may not use their Democracy Dollar proceeds for:

  • Any cash payments or in violation of any law.
  • To pay the candidate or family members for any goods or services.
  • To pay any entity in which the candidate or family members have 5% or greater in financial interests.
  • To pay any costs related to contested elections, defense of campaign or ethics violations, inaugurations, or officeholder expenses.
  • To donate any amount to another candidate, political committee, or non-profit organization.

If a candidate who has redeemed a Democracy Dollars certificate, withdraws, dies, becomes ineligible, loses qualification, is eliminated in any general or runoff election, or wins a general election, must restore to the Austin Ethics Commission any unspent Democracy Dollar proceeds.





Using Democracy Dollars

How many Democracy Dollars do I get?


Each eligible resident receives two $25 Democracy Dollar certificates for each municipal race that will appear on their ballot that year.

  • Example: Jane Q. Public lives in a district in which her city council representative is up for re-election. The mayor of the city of Austin is not up for re-election that year. She can receive two $25 Democracy Dollar certificates to use for that election cycle.

Residents receive a maximum of four $25 Democracy Dollar certificates for a total of $100 Democracy Dollars.




To whom can I give my Democracy Dollars?


Democracy Dollars may only be given to an eligible candidate.

You may not give your Democracy Dollars to city council candidates representing a district other than the one in which you reside. And you may not give or transfer the certificates to any other person, such as friends, family, or neighbors, for them to use.

Democracy Dollars may be given directly to a candidate's campaign or mailed to the Austin Ethics Commission to distribute.




Can I sell or give away my Democracy Dollars to anyone?


No, Democracy Dollars have no cash value and are not assets, income, or property.

Transfer of Democracy Dollars for cash or value, and offering to purchase, buy, or sell a Democracy Dollar certificate are prohibited and constitute a Class C misdemeanor under City law as well as state crimes.




Can I get my Democracy Dollars back?


No. Once Democracy Dollars have been given to a candidate or sent to the Austin Ethics Commission, you may not receive your Dollars back.




Do I get more Democracy Dollars for a runoff election?


No. But you may use unused Dollars before the last day of the runoff vote.




What if I don’t use my Democracy Dollars?


Your Dollars expire if:

  • You are no longer a resident of the City of Austin.
  • You become a resident of a district in Austin with no city council representative on the ballot – though certificates used for Mayoral candidates would not expire.
  • You are no longer eligible to vote under state law.
  • The election has concluded, including all runoffs, and a city council member or mayor is elected.





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