Grassroots-led ballot measures seek to curb lobbyist control
FLORENCE, Mass. (November 5, 2018) - Voters and lobbyists are clashing over a range of political reform referenda on the ballot in several states. From Michigan to Missouri and the Dakotas, the citizens are in revolt against their state’s biggest lobbying groups who they blame for a rigged political system. Coalitions of lobbying groups are fighting back through lawsuits and negative advertising attempting to defeat reforms that would curb lobbyist influence.
In Michigan, one of the state’s most powerful lobbying groups, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, backed an unsuccessful lawsuit that attempted to remove an anti-gerrymandering measure from the ballot. Represent Michigan, the local chapter of RepresentUs, the nation’s leading right-left anti-corruption group, ran an accountability campaign that targeted Chamber board members with ads and protests.
“The chamber’s underhanded false-claims, smoke screens and efforts to disenfranchise voters is nothing new to them,” said Hugh McNichol, IV, co-leader of the RepresentUs chapter in Lansing and an Iraq War Veteran. “What brings us all together is methods of unrigging our elections, like how politicians get to pick their voters, and our struggle against the corrupting influence of money in politics.”
Emily Wietecha, a volunteer with Represent Michigan’s Detroit chapter says, “The lobbyists and special interests have way too much control." She backs the anti-gerrymandering ballot measure because it “would ensure a fair, transparent and impartial process for drawing Michigan’s districts. It would ensure voters choose their politicians, instead of the other way around.”
In Missouri, after lobbying groups backed an unsuccessful lawsuit to remove a sweeping ethics and lobbying reform measure from the ballot, the local chapter of RepresentUs fought back with a billboard campaign. Represent Missouri put up several billboards highlighting specific gifts lobbyists have given to lawmakers along three major highways. Along Highways 50, 54, and 63 the billboards include sayings such as “Free trip to SeaWorld! Actual gift from a lobbyist to a Missouri politician,” “Free trip to the Indy 500! Actual gift from a lobbyist to a Missouri politician,” and “$1 Million. That’s how much lobbyists gave Missouri politicians last year.”
“We’re making the point that the lobbyist gifts to politicians have gotten out of hand,” said Steve Davey, a volunteer with Represent Missouri. “The gifts are clear examples of the culture of excess within a corrupt system. The timing was right to call this out after we saw a lawsuit by lobbyists attempting to remove this anti-corruption measure from the November ballot.”
In South Dakota, Vermillion native Doug Kronaizl volunteered to gather signatures in 2015 to help qualify Initiated Measure 22, the South Dakota Anti-Corruption Act, for the 2016 ballot. Voters approved the initiative, but then the state legislature, using emergency powers, repealed the law in 2017. Then, Kronaizl organized a series of forums across the state and built a right-left coalition who gathered more than 50,000 signatures to qualify Amendment W, the South Dakota Anti-Corruption Amendment, for the November ballot. Amendment W includes a lobbyist gift ban. A ballot committee has formed opposed to Amendment W and ninety-nine percent of its funds are from lobbying groups.
“With so many lobbyists lining up against Amendment W, you know it’s going to drain the swamp,” said Doug Kronaizl, spokesperson for Yes on W. “These are the special interest groups who buy significant influence and benefit the most from a corrupt system. They are threatened by Amendment W because it gives power back to the voters.”
Measure 1, an Anti-Corruption Amendment, is on the ballot in North Dakota with a lobbyist gift ban included. Just as in South Dakota, the opponents to reform in North Dakota include some of the state’s top lobbying groups.
“It only takes one look at the special-interests funding the campaign to oppose Measure 1 to know exactly why they are afraid of it,” said Dina Butcher, President of North Dakotans for Public Integrity, the committee sponsoring Measure 1. “These lobbying groups routinely spend money to influence North Dakota elections and government, and under current North Dakota law, they never have to tell voters where their money is really coming from. That’s exactly the way they want to keep it.”
RepresentUs is supporting the campaigns in Michigan, Missouri, the Dakotas and more than a dozen more state and local political reform measures, the most in American history.
“The voters are fed up with the lobbyists and special interests,” said Josh Silver, director of RepresentUs. “Across America, citizens are taking matters into their own hands to take power away from lobbyists to make government work for the people. It’s time for government to be responsive to the will of the people, instead of the lobbyists.”
RepresentUs is the nation’s leading right-left anti-corruption group, bringing together conservatives, progressives and everyone in between to pass anti-corruption laws in cities and states around the country.
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