News Politics

Voters Back Campaign Finance Reform in Large Numbers

Nicole Knight

Allegra Chapman, director of voting and elections with Common Cause, a nonpartisan government oversight group, told Rewire in a phone interview that 2016 saw an uptick in pro-democracy reforms.

Lost in the post-election fallout is the story of how U.S. voters overwhelmingly favored more than a dozen ballot initiatives to strengthen representative democracy.

Voters in California and Washington state, for example, overwhelmingly rejected the outsized influence of moneyed corporate interests by passing a measure that calls on Congress to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision. Citizens United, as the case is known, is a 2010 decision that struck down limits on corporations’ campaign spending.

California and Washington state join 17 other states that have passed measures demanding Congress overturn Citizens United.

Meanwhile, Alaska passed a ballot measure on Tuesday to automatically register voters, joining Oregon, California, Connecticut, Vermont, and West Virginia as states that enfranchise citizens with automatic registration.

Oregon has nearly quadrupled the rate of new voter registrations since implementing automatic voter registration in January 2016, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Counties and municipalities across the nation also voted to limit campaign contributions, give ethics commissions stronger enforcement powers, and create independent citizen-led redistricting commissions to counter gerrymandering—the process by which politicians redraw district lines, sometimes unconstitutionally, to increase their chances of winning.

Allegra Chapman, director of voting and elections at Common Cause, a nonpartisan government oversight group, told Rewire in a phone interview that 2016 saw an uptick in these types of pro-democracy reforms.

“A lot of these ballot initiatives are really aiming to get government back in the hands of the people,” Chapman said.

Because “it’s been really hard to get much of anything done at the federal level,” Chapman said that reforms are increasingly taking place at the state and local level.

Some of these measures will create barely a ripple. For example, the 112,000-person town of Berkeley, California, has agreed to set aside about $500,000 annually to publicly finance city council and mayoral races. Others are symbolic, as is the case with the Citizens United initiatives in California and Washington. The measures, while calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United, cannot force Congress to act.

Still, as Chapman noted, the passage of these ballot initiatives in more and more states sends a message to Congress that Americans want pro-democracy reform.

A nationwide poll of 1,000 voters conducted in August found that 73 percent viewed the Citizens United decision unfavorably, and 83 percent were concerned about the influence of “dark money,” or anonymous contributions, in politics.

“Regardless of the outcome of this election at the presidential level,” Chapman said, “it seems like Americans are trying to ensure that government is less corrupt and there’s less money in it.”

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