Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Jay Williams offers a variety of informative policy statements in his responses to yesterday’s Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session. But he slips and proposes what is likely an unconstitutional restriction on campaign contributions from folks from elsewhere.
In response to a campaign finance question, Williams says he supports reforming campaign finance with “citizen vouchers,” like the Democracy Credits included in Initiated Measure 22, the Anti-Corruption Act. But Williams adds this statement: “Along with this I support limiting campaign contributions to persons who can actually vote for the candidate.”
I can see a principle behind what Williams is saying: the people who have to live with the consequences of an election should have primary if not exclusive influence over the outcome of that election.
However, can’t we argue that people in neighboring states are affected by the results of elections in South Dakota? Doesn’t Grover Norquist have a better chance of drowning the government in a bathtub with Kristi Noem as South Dakota’s lone Congresswoman? Don’t women in California stand a better chance of enjoying equality in wages and health decisions if they help flip a South Dakota Senate seat from Republican to Democrat?
If we accept the principle of campaign dollars as free speech—a problematic and debatable concept that nonetheless underpins current campaign finance law—prohibiting a Minnesotan from contributing to a South Dakota candidate fails constitutional scrutiny. A Pipestone resident has as much First Amendment right to express her support in dollars for Jay Williams as she does for Senator Al Franken.
Likewise at the state legislative level, Rapid City residents have as much right to speak up for State Senate candidates in Aberdeen and Sioux Falls as for the candidates in their own districts. And for folks in districts where Legislative seats went uncontested or were decided in the primary, supporting candidates outside their Legislative districts is their only chance to influence the election of a Legislature that supports their priorities. (Full disclosure: like many Legislative candidates around the state, I am asking for and receiving substantial support from folks outside District 3.)
Banning contributions from folks who can’t vote for the candidate they are supporting would put a crimp in Williams’s own fundraising. Eight of Williams’s 43 individual itemized donations appear to come from people who cannot vote for him. Williams’s April FEC report shows $300 from an Iowa woman, $250 from a Virginia man, $250 from a Wisconsin man, and $2,600 from a Washington State woman. Williams’s pre-primary report shows $250 from a California woman, $500 from a Washington, D.C., man, and $1,000 from a Minnesota man. Williams’s July FEC report shows one more contribution of $50 from that California gal (Berkeley! Williams courts the hippie vote!). That $5,200 constitutes 26% of Williams’s reported itemized individual contributions.
Banning contributions from out-of-staters would knock an even bigger hole in the war chest of Williams’s opponent. Between January 1, 2015, and May 18, 2016, Senator John Thune received 4,480 individual itemized donations. 3,109 of those donations came from out of state. Thune’s out-of-state donors gave him $1.42 million, 77.2% of his $1.84 million in individual itemized contributions over that period.
I support IM 22 and other proposals to reduce the influence of big corporate money and enhance the power of individual voters. But banning contributions from individual stakeholders outside of a given electoral district won’t pass First Amendment muster.