State Reform Roundup

<p>Photo by  Jimmy Emerson, DVM / Flickr</p> (South Dakota State Capitol)

Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM / Flickr

(South Dakota State Capitol)

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

It’s an all-too-common refrain in politics: when Congress can’t pass legislation, the states take command of the issue and create solutions on their own. Campaign finance reform is no exception. A number of states have upcoming bipartisan ballot initiatives or bills pending in their legislatures designed to address money’s corrosive influence in politics. Here’s our roundup of what’s happening around the country:

  • In South Dakota, Washington state, Idaho and Miami-Dade County, Florida, a number of bipartisan coalitions have developed ballot initiatives to toughen campaign finance laws. Through tougher enforcement, lower contribution limits, prohibitions on corporate donations and gifts, expanded disclosure requirements and alternative funding methods (such as democracy vouchers or small-donor matching, ideas we support), each ballot initiative is a promising set of reforms to fix our democracy at the local level. For more information, check out the websites for Yes On 22 (South Dakota), Integrity Washington and Accountable Miami-Dade.
  • Money in politics is a multifaceted crisis, which is why the new bills introduced in the Delaware General Assembly are particularly noteworthy. Among a number of fixes, including removing an exemption of General Assembly members from public integrity laws, the proposed laws would make politics more transparent by requiring Delaware lobbyists to pay an annual registration fee and disclose how much they are being paid by their clients. Additionally, PACs for local and state candidates would be required to publish more information, like employment information, for donors.
  • After a string of scandals, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has finally come around to cleaning up Albany. Cuomo has proposed eight bills to close the limited liability company (or LLC) loophole, which exempts LLC’s from campaign contribution limits and disclosure requirements.
  • Pennsylvania is sorely lacking in campaign finance law. In fact, it’s one of only 11 states without contribution limits. That makes the recent breakthrough in Pennsylvania’s legislature so important. Governor Tom Wolf and the Republican leaders in the Senate have announced they’re ready to talk about new reforms for the state.
  • South Carolina has begun to experiment with campaign finance enforcement. Its Senate passed H.3184, which sends all campaign finance complaints to an independent ethics commission. While half of the commission will be selected by legislators, none of commissioners will be current or recent legislators. The Ethics Commission’s hearings, findings and decisions will all be public so voters can keep their officials accountable, even if their Senate and House Ethics Committees don’t.
  • In Arizona, Attorney General Michele Reagan, a Republican, is in the process of launching a new website,, that will make campaign contributions in the state more transparent. will be an excellent resource for Arizonans to keep their elected officials more accountable.

Countless states, counties, cities and localities across the country have forged paths ahead without Congress, identifying a serious crisis in American governance and solving it independently. Congress needs to pay attention.