Money-in-politics ballot initiatives roundup

With the 2016 elections nearly a month away, it’s time for an update on the various state ballot initiative efforts at money-in-politics reform around the country.

Oregon

Oregon is one of six states with no limit on campaign contributions. As a result, the Center for Public Integrity ranked the state second to last for its campaign finance system. Thankfully, Multnomah County, Oregon’s largest county by population and home to Portland, is stepping up to address the problem. Ballot measure OR 26-184, on the ballot this November and sponsored by groups including the Portland Alliance for Democracy, the Sierra Club and Multnomah Fair Elections & Clean Governance, would limit both contributions to candidates from individuals and PACs ($500 limit for both) as well as independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates by individuals or PACs ($5,000 for individuals, $10,000 for PACs). The initiative would also require disclosure of the top five financial backers of each advertisement. Such measures enjoy popular support in the area: A 2015 DHM Research survey found that more than 60 percent of Oregonians support contribution limits.

Berkeley, CA

The city of Berkeley, CA has included Measure X1 on its ballot in an effort to establish cleaner elections. The measure would create a matching funds system, in which candidates who can demonstrate significant support, accept only donations under $50 and refuse contributions from special interest PACs are entitled to a $6 match for every dollar raised. City council members have expressed enthusiasm for the ballot initiative which, if passed, would redirect their attention to representing average voters, not a few deep-pocketed donors.

South Dakota

IM 22, a bipartisan South Dakota ballot initiative, is an all-encompassing reform that addresses numerous challenges related to the influence of money in politics throughout the state. The measure would strengthen both contribution disclosure requirements, as well as enforcement of existing laws by creating an ethics commission. This body would also be charged with facilitating a large-scale citizen-funded election program that would provide registered voters with two $50 credits, which they can give to participating candidates. The measure would also lower limits on contributions given to PACs, parties and candidates, as well contributions given by PACs, parties and candidate campaign committees. In addition, IM 22 addresses the growing revolving door problem by limiting lobbyists’ gifts to elected officials and by mandating a gap of two years before any state official can lobby the legislature.  

Washington

Integrity Washington has also succeeded in including Washington Initiative 1464 on that state’s ballots this November. With bipartisan support—from the League of Women Voters Washington and the Seattle Tea Party Patriots—among others, 1464 employs a multifaceted approach to address the money-in-politics crisis in Washington state. This would strengthen transparency of donors who sponsor advertisements and strengthen enforcement of campaign finance laws, including those that prevent coordination between candidates and super PACs. It would also limit the ability of lobbyists to influence government policy by preventing retiring elected officials from immediately becoming lobbyists and by prohibiting lobbyists from making large contributions to candidates for state office. Also in Washington, the bipartisan Initiative 735, will appear on the November ballot. The Initiative directs Washington to pressure the U.S. Congress to overturn the 2010 Citizens United decision. A similar initiative, Prop 59, is on the ballot in California.

Howard County, Maryland

Howard County, Maryland, which encompasses many of the small cities located between Baltimore and Washington, is following the lead of its neighbor, Montgomery County, this November. Voters will have a chance to establish the Howard County Citizens Election Fund, which would create a voluntary matching funds system that would redirect candidates’ focus away from big donors. The county council has already voted in favor of establishing the program.

Missouri

Since Missouri’s campaign contribution limits were repealed in 2008, a number of large donors has wielded an incredible amount of influence over the state legislature by doling out six-figure checks. Constitutional Amendment 2, which would cap contributions to candidates ($2,600 per election) and political parties ($25,000), will appear on November’s ballot thanks to an assist from the state Supreme Court, which denied a request to hear a challenge to the law. The Amendment enjoys bipartisan support in the state.

Miami-Dade County, Florida

We’ve been closely following Accountable Miami-Dade’s efforts to include an extensive money-in-politics reform initiative on the November ballot in Florida’s Miami-Dade County. Unfortunately, as of a recent appeals court ruling, voters won’t see campaign finance rules on the ballot this year, despite the roughly 130,000 petition signatures delivered to the county’s election headquarters last month. Accountable Miami-Dade, whose bipartisan plan included efforts to strengthen enforcement of campaign finance laws, limit government contractors’ and lobbyists’ contributions to campaigns, further limit large contributions to campaigns and establish a matching system to boost small donors’ power, is planning to resubmit the ballot initiative at the next opportunity.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

A similar situation to Miami-Dade is developing in Albuquerque, NM. The city council voted by an 8-1 margin to include a bipartisan initiative on the November ballot that would expand the city’s public financing system for its mayoral elections. But while the initiative passed the city council vote, it failed before the county commission on technical grounds. That makes the initiative unlikely to appear on this November’s ballot, but it will likely be voted on in next October’s municipal elections.

This is part of a series examining ethics, transparency and campaign finance proposals in the states. Sign up for our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss one.