Progressive organizations concerned about the influence of big money donors following the Citizens United ruling haven’t had much success with national change. Instead, these groups have been following the lead of Conservatives by taking their fight to local elections…and winning. Two initiatives won on Tuesday (though Seattle is still counting due to all mail-in voting) that will increase public money for candidates.
Maine and Seattle both had ballot measures aimed at providing more transparency for campaign donations and encouraging all voters to become small-dollar contributors through taxpayer-funded campaigns.
More Public Money for Maine Elections
Question 1 passed in Maine with support from reform-minded campaign organizations.
In Maine, by a vote of 55-45, voters approved an initiative to strengthen the state’s landmark Clean Elections system that will strengthen disclosure and enforcement requirements and restore the small-donor public financing system, so candidates can run competitive campaigns for office. Mainers voted to preserve the nation’s most blue-collar legislature and ensure that farmers, waitresses, and factory workers are still able to run and win elected office without having to rely on lobbyists and wealthy special interests.
New rules will require campaigns to disclose their top three funders on each advertisement. The main goal though was to increase public financing so more candidates opt-in to the public system and are not beholden to outside donors. Gubernatorial candidates will be able to receive $3.2 million per election up from $1 million, and state senate candidates had their allotment increased from $25,483 to $65,000.
Welfare for Politicians
In true Karl Rove fashion, GOP opposition to the initiative labeled the funding increases “Welfare for Politicians.” Opposition groups complained of the outside campaign groups that supported Yes on Question 1. This quote from Republican Representative Joel Stetkis is the ultimate Rovian GOP hypocrisy:
This is about once again Mainers defending our way of life against ultra wealthy special interest groups from away.
Got that? We must stop this effort to publicly fund elections in order to protect elections from influence by the wealthy.
Seattleites Get Campaign Coupons
On the other coast, Seattle voters also increased funding for local elections. Their novel method will give every registered voter four “Democracy Vouchers” worth $25 each to distribute among their preferred candidates in city elections.
If you can find it, I can’t think of a more Seattle beer to celebrate with than an Elysian Chocolate Coffee Imperial Stout.
While you nurse that, consider the shift in the Progressive approach to fixing our broken systems for voting and funding elections. In a sense, this is a “If you can’t beat them, join them” strategy and is likely a very good one. Big Money is here to stay, so it’s best to help a more diverse group of candidates gain access to the funds needed to compete.
Going Local for Election Change
The past couple years have seen renewed energy from election reformers, but directed locally. This follows Obama’s empty promises to “fix” the election system and Democrats being outmaneuvered since 2000 by local officials who control elections and redistricting.
Our election system has very little control at the national level (less with the gutting of the Voting Rights Act) and we don’t actually have a right to vote.
It remains to be seen if local wins will create a cascade of voting reform or if this will be a piecemeal effort that hinders meaningful change. Are initiatives like the National Popular Vote Intestate Compact an ingenious tactic to make the Electoral College irrelevant, or should efforts be directed at a constitutional shift? Is it better to increase the amount of taxpayer-funded campaigns, or will this only hasten an electoral arms race? Time will tell, but for now savor small victories.
Or, share your response with us on Twitter.
— jasonwhat (@jasonwhat) November 5, 2015
— Brennan Center (@BrennanCenter) November 5, 2015
Yup: Last night's victories "could boost efforts around the country to reduce the influence of money in politics." https://t.co/u5JnVGAW39
— Every Voice (@EveryVoice) November 4, 2015