Campaign Finance Reform News

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It all started with an effort to get big money out of politics. Now, lawmakers and campaign finance reform advocates might end up right back where they started.

Last week, the Supreme Court remanded a Ninth Circuit Court ruling that upheld Alaska’s strict campaign finance laws for further review. The legislature passed a $500 contribution limit for individuals and banned corporations from directly contributing to campaigns in 2015 — one of the lowest limits in the country.

The Ninth Circuit will reconsider whether the $500 limit violates Alaskans’ First Amendment right after not taking into consideration the Supreme Court’s 2006 ruling in Randall v. Sorrell that struck down Vermont’s strict campaign contribution limits.

It wasn’t an outright loss for campaign finance reform advocates because the Supreme Court didn’t actually strike down the law. But, what should the limit be for individual contributions to political campaigns?

The Supreme Court has routinely ruled in favor of money in politics and the result has been a disaster. Since the 2010 Citizens United ruling, billions of dollars have been spent by wealthy donors and corporations during elections.

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Could publicly-funded elections work?

Perhaps. The price tag would be hefty, though.

A growing number of Democratic presidential candidates have called for campaign finance reforms and establish publicly funded elections with “Democracy Dollars” as some call it.

Using entrepreneur and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s suggested $100 voucher per voter, and taking into consideration how many eligible voters participated in the 2018 midterm elections, providing every voter with a $100 voucher would cost more than $10 billion if every voter used it.

The idea is not impossible, though. The Seattle City Council passed a similar version of Yang’s plan in 2015, but set the limit to $25 per voter.

More states welcome campaign finance reform

With billionaires like former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer pouring millions of their own money into their presidential campaigns, the debate on money in politics is still alive and well.

In a refreshing moment of bipartisanship, however, states have been working to ensure transparency from any candidate seeking local office. Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA) signed a bill introduced by a Democratic state lawmaker that will completely overhaul the state’s campaign finance system.

Via AP: “Under the new law signed Tuesday by Baker, state lawmakers must report campaign contributions and expenditures in monthly statements filed [by] their banks.”

State legislators and some mayoral candidates will now have to report their financial information to the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance every month. The law intends to quickly identify and fix any discrepancies in public filings to improve transparency in political campaigns.

Meanwhile, interest in publicly financing elections made its way to the empire state. Last week, the New York State Public Finance Commission approved a measure to establish a $100 million state-funded matching funds program, set to go into effect in 2026

In the Courts

Blodgett v. Hughs: Complaint filed

Texans young and old banded together to file a lawsuit in federal court against the state. They’re asking the court to strike down a new law that requires all early voting polling places to remain open during specific hours rather than meet individual communities’ needs.

South Carolina Democratic Party v. State Election Commission: Complaint filed

The South Carolina Democratic party filed a lawsuit to invalidate a law that requires voters to provide their social security number in order to register to vote.

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