WASHINGTON ― Washington State and South Dakota voters gave a split decision on Tuesday on sweeping ballot initiatives that would reform campaign finance, lobbying and ethics in their respective states. The initiative in South Dakota won while the initiative in Washington lost.
Josh Silver, CEO of Represent.Us, the lead national reform group supporting the initiatives, called them “the most transformative money in politics reforms” in the country and hailed the passage of the South Dakota initiative as having “happened because progressives and conservatives led the charge.”
Represent.Us supported the two initiatives and empowered local groups and actors on the ground. In Washington, the unsuccessful campaign to pass I-1464 was led by a bipartisan coalition called Integrity Washington. The Yes on 22 campaign in South Dakota also featured bipartisan support and was chaired by a Republican ex-state senator and a Democratic former state representative.
The initiative language was packaged to attract this bipartisan consensus. This included tying together public campaign financing with strong lobbying and ethics reforms and transparency rules.
It also involved tailoring the public campaign finance system to make it more amenable to conservatives. The South Dakota initiative will create a system of “democracy vouchers,” providing each registered voter with a certain number of $50 credits to use as campaign contributions to candidates who choose to participate in the publicly funded system. Voters in Seattle approved a ballot initiative that created such a system for the city’s elections in 2015.
The campaign overcame strong opposition from Americans for Prosperity, the main political arm of the billionaire Koch brothers, to win in a conservative Republican state.
“Voters are sick and tired and want to embrace solutions,” said David Donnelly, CEO of the pro-reform group Every Voice, which also supported the initiatives.
These weren’t the only campaign finance or lobbying reforms on the ballot on Tuesday. Voters in Howard County, Maryland, and Berkeley, California, approved the creation of a small-donor public financing system. In San Francisco, voters enacted an initiative to implement new lobbying and ethics rules. In Missouri, voters passed an initiative to reinstate campaign contributions limits. And in California and Washington state voters passed referendums calling for the overturn of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.