Innovative Ways States and Cities Are Fighting Big Money In Elections

January 29, 2016

A california superhero

Big money in elections equals big political sway. America’s wealthy donor class knows it. They’ve also gotten better at it thanks to dubious rulings like the Citizens United decision, which has ushered in ferocious corporate spending and special interest influence, torching campaign finance reforms passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal over 40 years ago.

Amidst those ashes, however, hope grows. Advocates for public campaign funding at local and state levels are working harder than ever to fight big money with initiatives that value votes over dollars. And from Los Angeles to New York, and everywhere in between, innovative solutions are gaining favor and, in many cases, the green light.

California Could Lead the Charge for Overturning Citizens United

In order to check corporate campaign spending and stifle special-interest influence, sixteen states—so far—have asked members of Congress to support an amendment to overturn Citizens United. In addition, 650 communities across the country, including Los Angeles, the second-most-populous city in the U.S., have joined the fight. But California’s inclusion is still pending after being thwarted in 2014 by defenders of the current system. This month’s California Supreme Court decision could change that, though. Come on, Golden State!

Placing Donor Money Back in the Hands of Seattleites

Starting next year, Seattle’s local government will be heroically leading the move toward publically-funded elections. Politicians will be able to opt in to the public funding process, or raise money the old fashioned way from spendy donors. To fund those who opt in, the city will send each registered voter four $25 vouchers (dubbed Democracy Vouchers) that they can donate to the candidates they deem worthy. The Seattle ballot initiative is the first of its kind in America, allowing every city resident to become a campaign donor and fund local candidates.

Ohio’s Plan to Pummel Partisan Gerrymandering

While Seattleites can use their vouchers to save some green for other things (Our vote? Ice cream, duh.), Ohio’s been working overtime to implement laws that would curb gerrymandering, the process of drawing wonky district lines to favor one party over another. 71% of statewide voters are now backing constitutional reforms that would nix partisan gerrymandering and establish a bipartisan commission to draw legislative district lines that promote healthy election competition.

The Empire State Addresses Epidemic of Corruption

New York is a state noted for its awesome achievements in ending political graft and corruption. But as investor Warren Buffett once said, it’s also a place—New York City, in particular—that “…people ride to in a Rolls Royce to get advice from those who take a subway.” In order to give subway goers a more proportionate voice in state politics, campaign finance reform is a must-do. New York City currently has a small donor matching system for campaigns that allows candidates to raise money from ordinary citizens. Statewide, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed “public financing of political campaign reforms” in his 2014 budget address, the first step in what reformers hope will be a concerted effort to overhaul the system. The Governor also said he intends to include funds for a six-to-one small-donor matching system for campaigns from the state's $137.2 billion budget.

Maine Makes Clean Elections Count

The Clean Elections system is based on states providing public financing options for campaigns. The idea is that candidates accept public money in exchange for promises to limit both how much they can burn on the election and how much they receive in donations. In Maine, 55% of voters recently backed a proposal that would strengthen the state’s 19-year-old old Clean Elections system. In response to the big money conundrum, voters updated state laws so that candidates who accept public financing can receive additional public funding to counter attacks from super PACs—committees free to raise unlimited wads of cash from corporations, unions and individuals. Reforms also include a nifty transparency rule requiring “independent” groups to disclose the identities of high-dollar donors. Finally, (Way to go Maine!) a new state measure sticks it to the crooks with stiffer penalties for campaign finance violations. Lobsters all around!

Welcome to the Most Expensive Election in U.S. History

When Americans elect the 45th U.S. President this November, it will mark the conclusion of the most expensive US election, well, ever. Hundreds of millions of dollars have already poured in from just a tiny fraction of American households. Meanwhile, the majority of Americans agree that big money in politics has led to a corrupt and busted system. Innovative election reforms championed at the local and state level are giving us a fighting chance for a needed fix.