The NCSL Blog


By Wendy Underhill

Some people worry about money in politics, and think it should be restricted, regulated, or at the very least, reported. Others—including the U.S. Supreme Court—see money in politics as a form of speech that should therefore flow freely.  

money into ballot baxIt’s that first group—the worriers—who have been busy this year gathering signatures to put campaign-finance measures on the ballot. In total five measures in four states are ready for voters to decide—one each in California, Missouri and South Dakota, and two in Washington.

In California, Proposition 59 would ask the Golden State’s congressional delegation to try to undo Citizens United v. FEC. That’s the 2010 Supreme Court decision that allows corporations and unions to make unlimited campaign contributions. While it is just one of a series of court decisions that have undone regulations from the past, the concept of “undoing Citizens United” is shorthand for “we want federal campaign finance regulation.”

Washington’s Initiative 735 would do essentially the same thing. Both are opportunities for voters to express their opinions, and don’t have the weight of changes to law. Think of them as opinion polls.

Washington’s Initiative 1464 does have real life consequences. It proposes to create a voucher system by which voters can make up to three contributions of $50 each to the state legislative candidates of their choice.

A similar system was approved by Seattle voters in 2015 for local races. Where will this money come from? By repealing a nonresident tax exemption, thus requiring out-of-staters to pay sales tax, thus raising revenues.

In Missouri—one of a dozen states that does not impose any limits on campaign contributions—Amendment 2 would set $2,600 as a limit on individual contributions to state officeholders and legislators. Many additional details are included, stretching this amendment to more than eight pages of type. The limit is just $100 less than limits for federal officeholders, and in the middle of limits for states.

And in South Dakota, Measure 22 would do three things. First, it would create a public financing system. Second, it would lower contribution limits in the state. Third, it would increase disclosure requirements. Those three things are the methods of choice—possibly the only methods—open to states that may want to regulate money in politics in some way.

The fact that five measures made it on the ballots this year says something. In previous general elections, only one or two campaign finance-related measures have made the ballot at all. So, win or lose, this is a banner year for this one small slice of the ballot measures pie.

To see all this year’s ballot measures, please visit NCSL’s Ballot Measures database.

Wendy Underhill is the program director for elections, redistricting and ballot measures.

Email Wendy

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.