Reform in the states: A round-up

This is part of a series examining ethics, transparency and campaign finance proposals in the states. 

As presidential candidates criss-cross the country campaigning for the Oval Office, it is important to remember that states — those laboratories of democracy — are not waiting for Congress and the president to tackle their own ethics and political issues.

Here’s a brief round-up of what we’re watching ahead of November.

St. Petersburg, FL has moved forward on a bill that will ban money from super PACs and foreign-owned corporations from being spent in local elections. More at SaintPetersBlog and Yes! Magazine. Yes! indeed.

A proposition in Florida — An Accountable Miami-Dade — would lower contribution limits and establish a small-donor matching system in one of the largest counties in Florida. The proposition was able to collect 125,000 signed petitions, which required two U-Haul trucks to bring to Miami-Dade County’s election headquarters in Doral, FL. Unfortunately, county commissioners delayed the ballot initiative to the 2018 election.

In Missouri, where individuals can donate an unlimited amount to state candidates, a ballot measure this November will let voters decide on instituting contribution limits. Contributions to candidates would be limited at $2,600 and contributions to parties would be limited at $25,000. Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Chris Koster, currently the state’s Attorney General, has pledged his support to limits on campaign donations.

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision in McDonnell v. United States, which let former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell off the hook for gifts he received in exchange for supporting the donor’s business, a new bill that would limit elected officials’ ability to receive gifts has been introduced into the New York state legislature. The proposal, introduced by Senator Todd Kaminsky and Assemblyman Charles Lavine would strengthen the state’s anti-bribery laws.

South Dakotan voters will be able to decide on a ballot initiative this November that would establish citizen-funded elections, lower contribution limits, prevent gifts by lobbyists to elected officials, increase disclosure requirements and create an ethics commission to enforce the laws. It would also address the state’s “revolving door” — the ability for lawmakers to immediately begin lobbying upon leaving office.

A similarly strong initiative in Washington State has been certified to the ballot for this November. I-1464, which would toughen enforcement of existing laws, strengthen disclosure requirements and establish a voucher system to boost small donors, was added after more than 300,000 signatures were delivered to Washington’s secretary of state’s office.

A federal court has upheld base limits on contributions in the city of Austin, TX, calling them important in preventing corruption in the city. Unfortunately, the court also struck down “blackout periods,” which limit fundraising by candidates beginning 180 days before an election, as well as aggregate contribution limits and a requirement that candidates distribute their excess money from contributions to their sources, charity, or the public campaign fund. More coverage from The Austin Chronicle and The Austin Monitor.

If you’re looking for more solutions and models of working government, read our Blueprints for Democracy report.