Tallahassee Voters Said No To Big Money, Corruption In City Politics

11/04/2014 10:07 pm ET | Updated Nov 05, 2014
Todd Taulman via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- After wealthy donors helped fuel the most expensive midterm election in history, voters in Tallahassee, Florida, passed a referendum to stem that tide.

On Tuesday, 67 percent of voters in the city backed a referendum to amend the Tallahassee charter to limit the influence of money in local politics and enact strict new ethics rules. The measure was pushed by a bipartisan alliance of tea party groups and traditional liberal organizations, including local chapters of Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.

The new ethics rules will limit campaign contributions to city candidates to $250 per donor, provide each voter with a tax rebate of up to $25 for campaign contributions, create an ethics board and require the enactment of an ethics code that includes a conflict-of-interest policy.

Represent.Us, a national anti-corruption group, originally conceived of the Tallahassee referendum. The group saw the measure as a test of its effort to empower citizens from both parties to work together to reform campaign finance, ethics and lobbying laws.

"This was the big field test for our theory," Represent.Us CEO Josh Silver said. "You've got money-in-politics reform, for the most part, stuck for a long time, and what if you bring the issue to the voters and you do it in a different way."

The theory behind the Tallahassee referendum is three-pronged, according to Silver. First, campaign finance and ethics reforms ought to be packaged together. Second, reform efforts must be bipartisan with "very prominent left-right coalitions." Third, they should be aimed against corruption, rather than in favor of preserving democracy or enacting campaign finance reform.

With one win under its belt, Represent.Us will now expand its drive to enact anti-corruption reforms from the bottom up. Silver said the group will pursue several city referendums in 2015 and 2016 and will have two statewide ballot initiative campaigns going in 2016. He did not say which states and cities will be targeted, but did say they will be ideologically diverse.

Silver said he hopes this strategy will work to push money-in-politics, ethics and corruption issues into the political conversation in the same way that ballot initiatives on same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization have done in recent years.

"This is a real bright spot in a field that hasn't had many of them in the last two decades," Silver said.

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