Voters Approve Numerous Campaign Finance Reform Measures on State/Local Level

Gavel resting on stack of money

The results of the 2016 election represent a call for change in our political system. Over the past eight months, voters across the country have spoken out about their belief that the U.S. political system is out of touch with the average citizens it is meant to represent.

This sentiment extended to down-ballot measures where voters approved numerous initiatives at the state and local level. Voters from Maine to California considered a wide range of reform proposals, from public financing to ranked choice voting, and nearly across the board, these measures passed.

The successful ballot initiatives represent the passion of engaged citizens working to change the way elections are run. Some of these are reforms are innovative — South Dakota will become the first state to use a democracy credit public financing system. Some reestablish basic principles of campaign finance law — Missouri voters reinstated contribution limits in their state after they were repealed by the legislature.

All of these efforts underscore the importance of campaign finance laws and the broad support at every level of government for changing the role of money in our political system. Here is a recap of the successful ballot measures.

Public Financing

South Dakota: Initiative Measure 22

South Dakota voters approved a complete overhaul of the state’s campaign finance law. The initiative creates a democracy credit public financing system, improves disclosure, strengthens the state’s lobbying laws and creates an independent commission to administer and enforce the laws.

  • South Dakota Ethics Commission: creates an independent, bipartisan body with rulemaking authority to administer and enforce the state’s campaign finance (including the democracy credit program) and ethics laws
  • Candidate and Party Provisions
    • Adjusts contribution limits for statewide and legislative offices
    • Lowers limits on contributions to political parties and PACs
    • “Soft money” solicitation ban for candidates
    • Establishes limits on contributions from political parties and PACs to candidates
    • Revises coordination law
  • Disclosure
    • More frequent reporting for candidates, parties and committees.
    • Independent Expenditure disclosure: organizations making independent expenditures must disclose individual contributors of more than $100.
    • Required electronic filing
  • Lobbying
    • Establishes a $100 annual cap on gifts from lobbyists and their employers to public officials and staff Expands the scope of lobbying activity beyond legislation to include attempts to influence executive action
    • Extends cooling off period from one year to two
  • Democracy Credit Program
    • Registered South Dakota voters will receive two $50 “credits” to give to participating state or legislative candidates
    • Participating candidates are subject to lower contribution limits and agree to a cap on the amount of personal funds they can spend to support their campaign

Berkeley, CA: Measure X1

Berkeley voters approved a voluntary matching funds public financing system. Participating candidates can receive a 6 to 1 match on contributions of $50 or less from Berkeley residents. All contributions to participating candidates are capped at $50. Candidates for Mayor and City Council are eligible for the program.

Howard County, MD: Question A

Howard County voters approved an initiative that directs the County Council to amend the county charter to establish a matching funds public financing program. The ballot question itself does not create a public financing program.

Lobbying Reform

San Francisco, CA: Question T

San Francisco voters approved an initiative that prohibits lobbyists from making gifts, including gifts of travel, to any city officer. The initiative also includes a tailored ban on lobbyist contributions and bundling: prohibits lobbyists from contributing to and bundling for candidates for a city elective office which the lobbyist is registered to lobby, i.e., you can’t contribute to the Mayor if you lobby the Mayor.

Contribution Limits

Missouri: Amendment 2

Missouri voters reestablished contribution limits in their state. Missouri had contribution limits at one point but they were repealed by the state legislature. The initiative includes other important provisions to prevent circumvention of the contribution limits.

  • Establishes contribution limits: Caps contributions “to elect an individual” to certain state offices at $2,600
  • Caps contributions from any “person” or “committee” to political party committees at $25,000.
  • Bans corporations or labor unions from making direct contributions to candidate committees.
  • Bars a candidate from donating directly to another candidate’s committee.
  • Bars Missouri candidates from accepting contributions from an out-of-state committee unless committee registers with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
  • Bars a “political action committee” from taking contributions from other PACs.
  • Bars committees and parties from accepting foreign contributions.

Multnomah County, OR: Measure 26-184

Multnomah County voters approved a $500 limit on contributions to any candidate from any individual or political action committees. The measure also limits the amount of money that can be spent independently—separate from money given directly to candidates—supporting or opposing a candidate. Finally, it requires that political advertisements disclose the real identities, “true original sources,” or the principal funders of the ad.

Ranked Choice Voting

Maine: Question 5

Maine voters approved ranked choice voting for state and federal elections – which means that in the future, winning candidates will have the support of a majority of voters. Voters will rank their candidates in order of preference. Their votes will then be tallied and the votes for candidates with the least number of votes are distributed to voters’ next best choice. This is also known as an “instant runoff.”

Citizens United Resolutions

Voters in California and Washington approved resolutions that urge lawmakers to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and other related Supreme Court Cases.

Corey handles media relations for the CLC voting rights and redistricting teams and creates online content. Follow @cgfromdc on Twitter