Introduction to the Update

Democracy is not static. Since 2015, when the Blueprints for Democracy report was produced, a growing number of states and local jurisdictions have enacted money-in-politics reforms. Many of the new reforms draw on the established programs outlined as models on this website. Not only do these new laws reflect widespread public interest in changing the role of money in our political system; they also demonstrate that in states and cities across the country, there is the political will to enact meaningful reform. In this updates section, we highlight a handful of the recent successful reforms from around the country.

Comprehensive Reforms



South Dakota
The Government Accountability and Anti-Corruption Act

What is it?

In November 2016, South Dakota voters approved a complete overhaul of the state’s campaign finance law (Initiative Measure 22). The initiative creates a democracy credit public financing system, improves disclosure, strengthens the state’s lobbying laws and creates an independent commission to administer and enforce the laws.

What does the new system include to increase participation?

The new law establishes the Democracy Credit Program, through which registered South Dakota voters will receive two $50 “credits” to give to participating candidates for state offices. Participating candidates are subject to lower contribution limits and must agree to a cap on the amount of personal funds they can spend to support their campaign.

What does the new system do to increase transparency?

The new law requires more frequent reporting of contributions and expenditures for candidates, parties and committees. It also requires organizations making independent expenditures to disclose individual contributors of more than $100. Finally, it requires electronic filing for campaign finance reports.

What new lobbying and contribution rules does the system include?

The new law puts lower limits on contributions to political parties and PACs, and establishes new limits on contributions from political parties and PACs to candidates. It also includes a ban on candidates soliciting “soft money” — money not subject to the limitations, prohibitions and reporting requirements of South Dakota law because intended for noncampaign purposes such as “party building.” It establishes a $100 annual cap on gifts from lobbyists and their employers to public officials and staff; broadens the definition of “lobbying activity” to include attempts to influence executive action (in addition to legislative action); and extends the “cooling off period” — during which recently departed state officials must refrain from lobbying the state — from one year to two.

What does the new law do about accountability?

The law creates an independent, bipartisan body — the South Dakota Ethics Commission — with rulemaking authority to administer and enforce the state’s campaign finance and ethics laws.

Note: Since being approved by voters in November 2016, this South Dakota law has faced legal and political challenges. A South Dakota circuit judge imposed a preliminary freeze on implementation of the law, finding that parts of it were unconstitutional under the state’s constitution: the funding for the “Democracy Credits” (explained below), the structure of the state ethics commission and the limit on gifts from lobbyists to public officials. In addition to this court challenge, the law faced a political and funding challenge as the governor of South Dakota, Dennis Daugaard, submitted his budget to the legislature without the $4.9 million in funding required for the $100 in Democracy Credits the law promises to each South Dakota citizen.
January 24, 2017 Update: In an unprecedented move, a bill to declare a state of emergency and repeal IM-22 passed out of committee with all Republicans on the House State Affairs Committee voting in favor. Today the bill is expected to be voted on by the South Dakota House of Representatives, followed by the Senate on Thursday. 
February 2, 2017 Update: The South Dakota legislature voted to repeal the voter-approved Anti-Corruption Act. Gov. Dennis Daugaard has signed the repeal bill. 
Issue One and the Campaign Legal Center will monitor developments in South Dakota and will periodically update this page with the latest news on the implementation of this law.



Clean Elections Initiative

What is it?

In November 2015, Maine voters approved a ballot initiative (Question 1) that updated and strengthened Maine’s public financing program and other aspects of the state’s campaign finance law. The Maine Clean Elections Act, initially passed by voters in 1996, created a clean election public financing program. Participating candidates qualify by raising a set number of $5 contributions. After qualifying, candidates are given a lump-sum grant of public funds. Candidates can only spend public funds and are prohibited from raising private contributions. Participation in Maine’s public financing system peaked in 2008 with more than 80 percent of state legislative candidates participating. Participation rates dropped after 2008 due to lack of funding and the invalidation of the program’s “trigger provisions” — providing additional public funds to participating candidates facing well-funded opponents or outside spenders — by the Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett. The 2015 initiative updated and strengthened the Act to make the clean election program more appealing to candidates and increase participation.

How did it strengthen participation?

To address the problems of insufficient funding for the clean election program, the 2015 initiative increased funding from $2 million to $3 million for the Maine Clean Elections Fund. The additional funding came from eliminating $6 million in “low-performing” corporate tax exemptions, deductions or credits. In addition to increasing funding, the initiative modified Maine's public financing system by allowing candidates to qualify for supplemental funds for their campaigns by collecting additional qualifying contributions. As a result of these updates, participation by legislative candidates in the clean election program increased from 53 percent of legislative candidates in 2014 to 62 percent of legislative candidates in 2016.

How did it strengthen common-sense rules?

The initiative increased penalties for violations of campaign finance disclosure rules. Finances reported late are now penalized at 100 percent of the amount of the contributions involved, rather than the former $5,000. Penalties and sanctions are doubled for violations when they occur within 24 days of an election and tripled when violations occur within 14 days.

How did it strengthen disclosure?

The initiative required advertisements and other political communications to include on-ad disclosure of the campaign's top three funders. It also required disclosures regarding funding for gubernatorial inaugurations and transitions.

Everyone Participates



Berkeley, California
Fair Elections Act

What is it?

Berkeley voters approved a voluntary matching funds public financing system in November 2016 (Measure X1). Participating candidates will receive a 6-to-1 match on contributions from Berkeley residents. They may not accept any contributions larger than $50, and may not use more than $50 of their own money. Candidates for mayor and City Council are eligible for the program.

How is it funded?

The act directs the City Council to appropriate $4 per Berkeley resident per year from the city General Fund to pay for the program. That amount is to be adjusted for inflation as time passes. Unspent funds distributed to candidates in prior elections and fines collected for violation of election laws are also to be used to fund the program.

How does a candidate qualify?

Candidates qualify by collecting at least 30 donations between $10 and $50, totaling at least $500, from Berkeley residents.



Howard County, Maryland
Citizens' Election Fund System

What is it?

The initiative approved by the voters of Howard County, Maryland in November 2016 (“Question A”) requires the County Council to establish a voluntary matching funds public financing program. The program is to be designed to provide campaign funds for qualifying candidates running for county executive and County Council by matching small qualifying contributions to their campaigns with public funds. Full funding for the program (as estimated by an independent commission) is to be provided in the county’s annual budget unless specified conditions of financial hardship are present. Further program details, left unspecified by the initiative, will be worked out by the County Council.



Portland, Oregon
Open and Accountable Elections

What is it?

The Portland City Council passed a law on December 14, 2016 creating a voluntary small-donor matching system for city offices. Candidates choosing to participate in the system agree not to accept more than $250 from any one donor, and, in exchange, contributions up to $50 are matched at a rate of 6-to-1 by the city.

What other rules does the new law impose?

Participating candidates are also limited in the total amount of money they can raise and the total amount of public money they can be awarded in matching funds.

How does a candidate qualify?

Candidates for commissioner or auditor must collect $2,500 in small contributions from at least 250 Portlanders. Candidates for mayor must collect a total of $5,000 from at least 500 Portlanders.

How is it funded?

The program is funded out of the city’s General Fund. It does not have a separate, dedicated source of funding.



Seattle, Washington
Honest Elections

What is it?

Passed by Seattle voters as Initiative 122 in November 2015, and rolled out in December 2016, the Honest Elections Seattle initiative established the nation’s first citizen funding program based on vouchers. All registered Seattle voters are given $100 worth of Democracy Vouchers to give to the candidates of their choice for mayor, City Council and city attorney. Qualified candidates may redeem the vouchers with the city; to qualify candidates agree to spending and contribution limits and to participate in three public debates. 2017 will be the city’s first election under this innovative new system.

What other rules does the new law include?

The initiative bars candidates from accepting contributions from city contractors and from organizations that hire lobbyists. It also bars city officials and their senior aides from lobbying the city for three years after leaving their city jobs.

How is it funded?

The system is financed by a special property tax levy of $3 million per year.

Everyone Plays by Common-Sense Rules



San Francisco, California
Ordinance Restricting Gifts and Contributions from Lobbyists

How does the new ordinance restrict lobbyists?

San Francisco voters approved an ordinance (“Question T”) in November 2016 that prohibits lobbyists from making gifts, including gifts of travel, to any city officer. The initiative also requires lobbyists to note on registration forms what city agencies they will be lobbying, and bans them from contributing to (or bundling contributions to) officers of those agencies.



Campaign Contribution Reform Initiative

What is it?

Missouri voters passed an amendment to the state constitution (“Amendment 2”) reestablishing campaign contribution limits in their state, imposing limits for the first time since their repeal by the state legislature in 2008. The amendment includes provisions to prevent circumvention of the new contribution limits.

What limits does it set?

It limits contributions to candidates to certain state offices at $2,600 and caps contributions to political party committees at $25,000.

What other restrictions does it impose?

  • It bans corporations or labor unions from making direct contributions to election campaigns.
  • It bars a candidate from donating directly to another candidate’s campaign.
  • It bars Missouri candidates from accepting contributions from an out-of-state committee unless that committee registers with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
  • It bars PACs from taking contributions from other PACs.
  • It bars campaigns, PACs and parties from accepting foreign contributions.

Everyone Knows



Austin, Texas
“Dark Money” Disclosure Ordinance

What is it?

In June 2016, the Austin City Council amended its city code to require greater disclosure of independent spending in city elections. Under the ordinance, any person spending at least $500 on direct campaign expenditures — a term which encompasses both “express advocacy” (ads using words like “vote for” or “vote against” to expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate) and “electioneering communications” (ads referring to a clearly identified candidate that run within 60 days of an election) — must file a report detailing the expenditure with the city. Additionally, any person who makes “covered transfers” of at least $500 must file a report with the city. The ordinance generally defines “covered transfer” as a transfer of funds by one person to another with instructions — or even just an understanding — that the recipient will use the funds for direct campaign expenditures.

The ordinance generally requires this disclosure for all donors; however, a donor does not have to be disclosed if the donor specified in writing that the contribution was not to be used for political spending purposes. Alternatively, a person engaged in political spending can establish a segregated bank account exclusively for making direct campaign expenditures or covered transfers. If direct campaign expenditures or covered transfers are made exclusively from a segregated bank account, campaign finance reports must only disclose donors who gave to the segregated bank account.

What must be disclosed?

Reports for both direct campaign expenditures and covered transfers must disclose the name, address, occupation, employer and the date and amount of each contribution for every person who has given at least $500 during the election cycle to the person making the expenditure or transfer.

What other rules does the new law impose?

The ordinance also requires that political advertisements and electioneering communications funded by direct campaign expenditures include an on-ad statement listing the five largest contributors to the person paying for the advertisement or communication.

The descriptions of campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws in this document are intended to provide a general summary of reform options. They do not capture all of the nuance and exceptions in the law. They should not be relied upon as legal advice for particular circumstances or situations. If you have specific questions, or if you would like assistance drafting legislative language, please contact the Campaign Legal Center .