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In 1991, when the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation provided funding to a small group of state coalitions to digitize state-level political candidates' campaign-finance reports, it couldn't have envisioned the juggernaut it was enabling. The National Institute on Money in State Politics grew out of that initial effort and in the 1999-2000 election cycle provided the nation with its first glimpse of the major donors who contributed across state lines, to multiple gubernatorial candidates, to both Democrats and Republicans, or to incumbents who to this day overwhelmingly continue to be odds-on election favorites for deciding important public policy and spending tax dollars.
Now, 16 years later, the Institute's comprehensive, highly credentialed 50-state political spending information is an indispensable building block that fuels meaningful public debate with hard facts about money in politics. Its millions of records and cutting-edge technology available on FollowTheMoney.org are essential to the healthy evolution of our democracy. The Institute’s hard data reveals whether the reforms being pursued in the states—”the laboratories of democracy”—are having the desired effect or are failures, and suggests whether those reforms could be scaled to other states and to the federal level.
The Institute's mission of using data to promote a more accountable democracy is important to the 50 State Solution. As a bipartisan effort to encourage political reform throughout the country, the 50 State Solution will provide important infrastructure for those pursuing new and ongoing ways of grappling with important questions that will continually arise in a healthy democracy. The Institute provides the data, analyses, and web-based tools that empower those pursuing all types of reform, from redistricting and voting to primary-race reform or, of course, all types of campaign-finance reform.
If this recent election tells us anything, it is that a majority of people in the country wants the system to change. An important clue: 13 money-and-politics ballot measures passed in both red and blue states.
The Institute's Competitiveness Index is important to understanding the effects of many reforms. It equips people for looking at which state-level races were monetarily competitive, or competitive by vote count, or both; it lets users focus on specific states, primary elections, general elections, or both. Understanding how many candidates faced no opposition in the primary or general election is a good baseline from which to begin judging whether any type of reform is working.
The Institute's My Legislature tool provides a unique money-and-politics view of each state legislature, its committees and bill sponsors, and enables users to track a piece of legislation through the debate process to understand if campaign contributions may have influenced the passage of a measure.
Pursuing political reform and a renewal of our democracy must be a bipartisan effort. The 50 State Solution will let us poke and prod, analyze, and contrast reform ideas from many angles. Taking the conversation to the states only makes sense, given the dysfunctional processes at the federal level.
The Institute's treasure trove of unparalleled data about state-level elections, campaign finances, donors, lobbyist and more—all available to the public at FollowTheMoney.org as a public service—is essential to the 50 State Solution. We're pleased to be part of this visionary effort.
Edwin Bender is executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics.