- Click here for the article.
Big-money corporate lobbying has reached into one of the most obscure corners of state government: the offices of secretaries of state, the people charged with running elections impartially.
The targeting of secretaries of state with campaign donations, corporate-funded weekend outings and secret meetings with industry lobbyists reflects an intense focus on often overlooked ballot questions, which the secretaries frequently help write.
The ballot initiatives are meant to give voters a direct voice on policy issues such as the minimum wage and the environment. But corporate and other special interests are doing their best to build close ties with the secretaries because a difference of even a few words on a ballot measure can have an enormous impact on the outcome.
The influence campaign has intensified, with more citizen-driven ballot initiatives to be decided on Election Day this year than at any time in the past decade.
Emails and internal memos show top election officials soliciting industry groups for contributions specifically because they are facing unfavorable ballot initiatives. Read more.
Secretaries of state from Washington, Ohio, Colorado and Nevada — all Republicans — participated in closed-door meetings in May with representatives from Reynolds American, the nation’s second-largest tobacco company; the National Restaurant Association; and the National Rifle Association, while ballot initiative signatures in those states were still being collected, documents obtained through open records requests show.
At a weekend retreat last month at a hunting lodge in Kansas, Republican secretaries of state mingled with donors, including a representative from Koch Industries, as they shot pheasant and clay pigeons. The owners of Koch Industries — Charles G. and David H. Koch — have funded groups involved in several ballot initiative fights this year, including over a solar energy measure in Florida.
“The Koch brothers out with the Republican secretaries of state — that’s a news story I don’t need,” Allen Richardson, a Koch lobbyist, joked, unaware that a reporter was in attendance.
Groups aligned with Democrats have also targeted secretaries of state, mobilizing during the 2014 campaign to try to elect more officials sympathetic to their causes.