by Karen Shanton and Wendy Underhill
As any swing state resident will tell you, 2012 has been a bumper year for campaign ads. Swing states across the country – from Colorado to Wisconsin – are seeing up to 10 times as many presidential ads this cycle as they did in 2008. This deluge of ads can be traced in part to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that dramatically changed the rules about who can spend money on political races and how much they can spend. With its ruling in Citizens United, the high court struck down restrictions on independent political spending by corporations and unions.
Though the media tends to focus on Citizens United's role in presidential politics, the decision also set a new standard at the state level. Twenty-four states had statutory restrictions on independent spending by corporations and/or unions when the high court handed down its ruling. Since the ruling, many of these statutes have been found unconstitutional by the courts or repealed by state legislatures.
The University of Denver recently hosted a panel on the post-Citizens United campaign finance landscape, featuring former Federal Election Commission Chairman and Commissioner Trevor Potter, Americans for Campaign Finance Reform President and CEO Lawrence Noble and state campaign finance reform expert Mark Grueskin. After the panel, we caught up with Mark to pick his brain about the options available to states in the aftermath of Citizens United. If states still want to limit corporate and union spending, how can they do so?
He offered a number of suggestions. States can beef up disclosure and coordination rules. Following Iowa's lead, they can require groups to disclose more of their contributions more frequently. They can also tighten the regulations governing coordination between corporations or unions and political candidates.
Another option is to focus on enforcement of campaign finance laws. In almost every state, election administration is under the purview of party-affiliated officials – often the secretary of state. This has prompted concerns about uneven administration of election laws. Some advocate shifting to nonpartisan election administration to ensure that campaign finance laws are enforced fairly. For example, a group in Colorado tried to place a measure establishing a nonpartisan election administrator on the November ballot.
Coloradans will get to vote on a different approach instead. The state's ballot will include a measure directing its Congressional delegation to help overturn Citizens United. Similar resolutions have also been proposed in California, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Washington.
For more information about the impact of the Citizens United ruling on the states, go to NCSL's Citizens United and the States webpage. There, you'll find detailed information about the laws affected by the ruling as well as the legislation that has been proposed in response to it.