What’s Happening in the States? July 2015 Edition

  • Jack Noland
<p>Wikimedia Commons – Daniel Schwen</p>

Wikimedia Commons – Daniel Schwen

We’ve entered the dog days of summer, but around the country, states and municipalities are working toward reducing the influence of money in politics. In this post, we highlight some of the innovative reforms being made nationwide. For more state-level action, check out last month’s entry, and this comprehensive list from Politico.

  • The Tempe, Arizona City Council will reportedly discuss a public financing system for city elections later this summer. If approved, Tempe residents would have a chance to vote to implement for the system some time next year.
  • Maine, a state that has long been a leader in campaign finance reform, will feature a clean elections referendum on the November ballot. The measure, which made the ballot thanks to Mainers for Accountable Elections, would strengthen Maine’s existing campaign laws, improve state disclosure standards and empowering smaller donors to participate in the political system.
  • A bill currently under consideration in Pennsylvania would restrict public officials and employees from receiving goods or services from outside groups seeking government contracts or favorable regulation. Ethics measures like this are crucial to keeping government workers accountable to the people they serve, rather than to wealthy special interests.
  • Montana recently expanded its disclosure rules for the corporations and committees whose spending has exploded following Citizens United and the related court decisions. The new requirements will extend to groups doing broader “issue advocacy” campaigns without explicitly advocating for or against a given candidate, as, at present, these groups tend to operate in the dark. These rules are important for widening the regulatory scope, especially as states like Wisconsin narrow their enforcement.
  • After collecting more than 32,000 signatures in support, Honest Elections Seattle was able to get a reform measure onto Seattle’s November ballot. Emerald City voters will have the opportunity to implement a voucher-based public financing system for municipal elections, along with lower contribution limits citywide. This measure could help expand political participation levels in Seattle, where white, wealthy donors dominate the campaign contribution process.
  • In judicial news, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Delaware’s 2013 law requiring outside organizations that air political ads to reveal their donors. These disclosure rules allow residents to follow the money that flows into their elections and keep watch over the groups that aim to influence them in the voting booth.