State governments from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic seaboard are attempting to blunt the influence of free-spending super PACs and nonprofits by allowing people to contribute more money to political candidates.
Six governors — three Republicans and three Democrats — have signed bills increasing campaign contribution limits so far in 2013, while lawmakers in nearly a dozen other states have introduced similar legislation, a Center for Public Integrity review found.
The increase in limits follows the recent explosion of election activity by outside groups in the post-Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission era, which has led to candidates being attacked by super PACs and 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations that often spend more money on advertising than the candidates themselves.
In hopes of gaining greater control over their campaigns, some state lawmakers are pushing to allow candidates and parties to raise more funds while, in a few cases, imposing new restrictions on independent groups.
In March, Wyoming became the first state to ease restrictions on campaign contributions, raising limits from $1,000 to $1,500 for local candidates and to $2,500 for statewide candidates. The legislation also placed a cap on donations to candidates from political action committees, which previously had no limit.
“What we tried to take was a balanced approach,” Republican state Rep. Tim Stubson said. “We were really trying to incentivize individual giving, which is more transparent.”
Florida and Maryland lawmakers also sought to bring more transparency to their states’ respective campaign finance systems, using higher political contribution limits as a tool to forge bipartisan compromise.
The bill Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed into law May 1 increased caps on individual donations to legislative candidates from $500 to $1,000 and to statewide candidates from $500 to $3,000.
Soon after, Democratic Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley approved legislation bumping up limits from $4,000 to $6,000 per election cycle.
Both laws also impose more frequent reporting deadlines for political candidates and groups, while Maryland’s measure gives its state elections board more power to penalize campaign finance violators.