$169 million contributed to ballot measure campaigns in 2023

Welcome to the Friday, November 3, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. More than $169 million has been raised for and against state ballot measures in 2023, surpassing the three previous odd-year election cycles
  2. 31 officials face recall elections on Nov. 7
  3. #FridayTrivia:  What was the average cost-per-required signature for statewide citizen initiatives in 2023?

More than $169 million has been raised for and against state ballot measures in 2023, surpassing the three previous odd-year election cycles

A total of $169.48 million has been contributed to campaigns supporting or opposing 41 statewide ballot measures in eight states in 2023—more than the previous three odd-year election cycles. 

Campaigns raised $107.41 million in 2021, $28.36 million in 2019, and $108.76 million in 2017. 

In 2023, the average amount contributed per measure was $4.1 million. In 2021, 2019, and 2017, those averages were $2,754,116, $787,816, and $4,028,295, respectively. 

Here’s how much supporters and opponents have contributed to campaigns in six of the eight states:

  1. Ohio: $107.15 million (three measures)
  2. Maine: $48.43 million (eight measures)
  3. Oklahoma: $5.31 million (one measure)
  4. Colorado: $5.22 million (two measures)
  5. Texas: $2.88 million (14 measures)
  6. Wisconsin: $480,000 (three measures)

Ballotpedia did not identify PACs supporting or opposing ballot measures in Louisiana or New York.

Ohio accounts for 63.23% of the total state ballot measure campaign contributions this year. 

Let’s take a quick look at the five ballot measures that raised the most money this year:

  • Ohio Issue 1, Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative: The proposed constitutional amendment would establish the right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” including decisions about abortion. Ohio Issue 1 is the most expensive abortion-related ballot measure election following Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and the most expensive one since at least 2009. The three largest donors to PACs supporting the measure are the Sixteen Thirty Fund ($5.32 million), Lynn Schusterman ($3.5 million), and the Open Society Policy Center ($3.5 million). The three largest donors opposing the measure are Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America ($20.74 million), The Concord Fund ($18.00 million), and the Knights of Columbus ($1 million).
  • Ohio Issue 1, 60% Vote Requirement to Approve Constitutional Amendments Measure: Voters defeated this measure 57.11%-42.89% on Aug. 8. It would have increased the voter approval threshold for new constitutional amendments to 60%, including the abortion rights amendment being decided next week. The Protect Women Ohio PAC, which opposes the November Issue 1, supported the August Issue 1. The three largest donors supporting the November one are Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America ($12.50 million), Richard Uihlein ($4.00 million), and the American Policy Coalition ($800,000). Supporters organized the One Person One Vote PAC, which raised $22.02 million, including $5.14 million from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, $1.88 million from the Tides Foundation, and $1.12 million from the National Education Association. 
  • Maine Question 3, Pine Tree Power Company Initiative: Question 3 is a citizen initiative to replace investor-owned transmission and distribution utilities in Maine, including Central Maine Power (CMP) and Versant, with a quasi-public electric utility called the Pine Tree Power Company. The largest opposing donors included Avangrid Management Company, the parent company of CMP, with $23.33 million; ENMAX Corp., the parent company of Versant, with $15.93 million; and Clean Energy Matters, with $500,000. Supporters raised $1.21 million, including $150,000 from 128 Collective; $116,750 from Susan Bartovics; and $50,000 from Preston-Werner Initiatives. 
  • Maine Question 1, Voter Approval of Borrowing Above $1 Billion by State Entities and Electric Cooperatives Initiative:  Question 1 would require voter approval for certain state entities, municipal electric districts, electrification cooperatives, or consumer-owned transmission utilities, like the potential Pine Tree Power Company, to incur a total outstanding debt that exceeds $1 billion. The largest donors supporting Question 1 are the Avangrid Management Company ($24.3 million), Clean Energy Matters ($500,000), and Maine Affordable Energy ($191,580). 
  • Ohio Issue 2, Marijuana Legalization Initiative: Issue 2 would legalize the use, possession, cultivation, and sale of recreational marijuana for adults 21 years or older. It would also establish a 10% tax on marijuana sales, with revenue going to a cannabis social equity and jobs program. The top donors supporting the measure include the Marijuana Policy Project ($2.5 million), Larry Pegram ($375,000), and Cresco Labs Ohio, LLC ($295,000). The top donors against Issue 2 are Angela Phillips ($200,000), Ohio Manufacturers Association ($101,000), and the American Jobs and Growth Fund ($50,000). 

About 74% of this year’s contributions went to campaigns supporting or opposing the seven citizen initiatives this year (legislators referred the other 34 measures to the ballot). The most expensive measure this year, Ohio Issue 1, Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative, accounts for 42.25% of all contributions. In 2021, the most expensive measure—Maine Question 1—accounted for 93.01% of all contributions. In 2019 and 2017, the most expensive measures accounted for 24.15% and 71.18% of all contributions, respectively. 

Click below to learn more about ballot measure campaign finance this year.

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31 officials face recall elections on Nov. 7 

A lot is happening on Nov. 7—including recall elections against 31 officials. Let’s take a look at the details:

  • Twenty-five of the officials named in recall elections are in Michigan. 
  • Three are in Oregon.
  • The remaining three are in Colorado, Ohio, and Texas.   

Eleven of the 31 officials are city council members. Nine are city officials, including clerks and treasurers, and eight are mayors or supervisors. The remaining three officials are school board members (click here to read our recent Brew coverage of recall elections facing three Michigan school board members on Nov. 7).

States and municipalities have different rules governing recall elections (11 states do not allow for the recall of officials at any level of government). Here are the rules for elections on Nov. 7: 

  • Recalls in Michigan are similar to special elections, where the incumbents run against candidates who have filed against them. The candidate who receives the most votes in the election wins. 
  • In Colorado, recall elections ask voters two questions: a yes/no question on the recall and a list of candidates from which voters choose a replacement if the incumbent is recalled. 
  • In Ohio, the recalls are a yes/no question. If a majority of voters vote yes, the city council appoints a replacement. In both Oregon and Texas, the recall elections are also yes/no questions, but if a majority of voters vote yes, no appointments will be made. Instead, special elections will be held to elect replacements.

The reasons for the recalls on Nov. 7 vary, and include complaints about a lack of leadership, abuse of power, unlawful expenditures, and not resigning after accepting a job out of state. 

In Brookings, Oregon, along the southern coast, Mayor Ron Hedenskog and City Councilors Ed Schreiber and Michelle Morosky are up for recall. Brookings residents Dennis Triglia, Henry Cunningham, and Debra Worth organized the effort in response to the city council voting 4-1 on Jan. 30, 2023, to reinstate Janell Howard as city manager after she pleaded no contest to shoplifting charges. Howard had been on paid administrative leave the last seven months. 

In Michigan, Sandusky Community School District school board members Jason Trepkowski, Daniel Gerstenberger, and Jane Jacobson are facing recall. The recall effort began after the school board voted to retire the district’s previous mascot, the Redskins, and replace it with the Wolves. Rick Spiegel, a member of Save the Redskins Logo, said, “The board ignored the students’ survey results, as well as the voters’ survey results in the school district, not to mention the pleas from Native Americans to keep the name Redskins and the logo of Chief Two Guns White Calf.” Trepkowski said, “We had eight meetings before we changed this name, and it was all out in the open.”

Last year, we covered recall elections against 37 officials on Nov. 8. In 2021, we covered recall elections against nine officials on Nov. 2—two in Colorado, four in Wisconsin, and one each in Kansas, Michigan, and Missouri. Five of the officials were school board members, two were mayors, and two were city council members (overall in 2021, school board members were the officials most frequently targeted for recall). 

As of Oct. 31, we’ve tracked 251 recall efforts against 371 officials across all office types. Voters have removed 36 officials so far.

Twice a year, we publish a report on recall efforts against the country—a year-end report and a mid-year report. Click here to read our 2023 mid-year report, which covers recall efforts between January and June 21. In December, we will publish our year-end report, so stay tuned for that!

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#FridayTrivia: What was the average cost-per-required signature for statewide citizen initiatives in 2023?

In 2023, voters will decide seven statewide citizen initiatives (and 41 statewide measures in general). In the Thursday Brew, we took a peak behind the curtain at the costs associated with gathering signatures to qualify those measures for the ballot. 

Each year, we release a report on ballot measure signature costs. 

The average cost-per-required-signature (CPRS) this year is higher than the $8.13 campaigns spent in odd-year cycles between 2013 and 2021. The CPRS is the total spent on gathering signatures divided by the number of signatures required to qualify the measure for the ballot. In even years from 2012 to 2022, the average CPRS was $6.78.

What was the average cost-per-required signature for statewide citizen initiatives in 2023?

  1. $9.38
  2. $11.09
  3. $8.42
  4. $12.74