From California to Maryland, states rethink campaign finance
WASHINGTON, DC – Saturday, January 21, marks the seventh anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a case that struck down campaign finance regulations and opened federal, state, and local elections to increased political spending and less disclosure. Since the Court’s decision, eighteen states have passed resolutions to overturn Citizens United, and states and communities across the country have enacted reforms empowering everyday voters over big donors in elections.
“Citizens United struck a blow to our democracy, now it’s our job to rebuild,” said Andre Delattre, Executive Director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “We have the tools, we have the support, and state-by-state, city-by-city, we’re winning reforms that change how America does elections. Our solution to Citizens United is simple: build a democracy that prioritizes citizen engagement over big donor fundraising. With small donor empowerment programs, automatic voter registration, and ethics reform, we’re making that a reality.”
In 2010, the Supreme Court struck down limits on election spending by outside groups, allowing super PACs and dark money organizations to funnel unlimited funding into elections. The 2016 elections ranked as the most expensive in United States history, featuring nearly twice as much super PAC spending as our last presidential cycle thanks to a small handful of donors.
Eighteen states and over 700 communities nationwide have called for an amendment to overturn Citizens United. Polls show that a vast majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents support overturning the decision. This year, voters in California and Washington State passed ballot initiatives supporting legislative action to reverse Citizens United.
States, cities, and local municipalities have also passed small donor empowerment reforms that give regular voters a fair voice in our elections by encouraging candidates to raise funds from small donors. Since 2014, U.S. PIRG has played a leading role in successful small donor empowerment campaigns in Maine, Maryland, Oregon, and Washington. This past year, Missouri, South Dakota, and areas including Howard County, Maryland; Berkley, California; and Portland, Oregon, passed legislation reforming state and local campaign finance laws.
At a rapid clip, states are enacting automatic voter registration (AVR) laws which extend access to the polls to all residents eligible to vote. Since 2015, six states from Alaska, to West Virginia to Connecticut have enacted AVR through ballot initiatives, legislative changes, and administrative action. In Oregon, where AVR took effect in 2016, the program helped to strengthen voter engagement and break state records for voter turnout.
In 2017, U.S. PIRG will continue pushing for campaign finance, voter registration, and ethics reforms that refocus federal, state, and local elections on everyday voters. As areas like Washington, D.C., consider transformational campaign finance changes, and states including Massachusetts and Illinois debate automatic voter registration, opportunities for reform are appearing across the country.
U.S. PIRG, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.