A movement to reform the method of drawing state legislative and U.S. congressional districts has been slowly spreading across the country for decades. The movement’s goal: to revoke state legislatures’ control over redistricting and cede it to independent redistricting commissions. Spurred by progressively less competitive elections for the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures, and by the increasing success of partisan and bipartisan gerrymanders in manipulating the outcomes of those elections, calls for change have recently attracted national attention. Following the 2004 elections – the results of which revealed some of the least competitive races for state legislative and congressional seats in American history and exposed two of the most effective and egregious political gerrymanders ever accomplished – these calls rose to a fever pitch.

Municipal annexation receives a mixed reaction in the analysis of metropolitan organization. Some commentators, such as David Rusk or Laurie Reynolds, view annexation as the savior of cities that could not otherwise expand in ways necessary for economic success. For these advocates of liberal municipal expansion, annexation promises to reduce ethnic and racial segregation, residential density, inefficiencies allegedly related to metropolitan fragmentation, and per capita costs of public services. They similarly claim that annexation frustrates efforts by nonresidents to take advantage of municipal resources without paying a fair share for their upkeep and enables central cities to increase local tax revenues and control land use at the urban fringe.

Supreme Court precedent dating back to the 1970s and 1980s precludes state and local jurisdictions from limiting financial contributions to committees formed to support or oppose ballot measures or from barring corporate expenditures in ballot measure campaigns. These precedents emerged from the Supreme Court at the time of its greatest hostility to campaign finance regulation, when it viewed such laws as impermissibly impinging on the rights of free speech and association guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The initiative process was created originally to enable citizens to enact public policy directly and, in so doing, to overturn the dominion of interest groups and of state and local party machines. In recent years, initiatives have been thought to serve as a check on legislative authority and to provide the people with a means to pressure the legislature into adopting more public-regarding policies. Indeed, the general consensus emerging from the most recent academic research is that, at their worst, initiatives are benign and, at their best, they serve to further the interests of electoral majorities.

When it comes to money in politics, academic research has a difficult time establishing that the resources spent by special interest groups influence the formation of legislation, the passage and defeat of ballot measures, and the identity of the winner in candidate elections. For example, the academic literature on ballot initiatives suggests that campaign expenditures raised to pass initiatives have little effect on passage rates; if money has had any influence at all, then it may be in opposing initiatives. Elisabeth Gerber finds the evidence so weak that she concludes, “the empirical evidence provides further basis for rejecting the allegation that economic interest groups buy policy outcomes through the direct legislation process.” Other scholars have found that when special interests want initiatives passed, “money spent by proponents in this arena is largely wasted.” Also some works in the academic literature on campaign spending and campaign contributions find that their effects on political outcomes are small.

Clayton Gillette’s paper is very penetrating and full of insights regarding the incentives involved in the annexation decision and the effect of political arrangements on the outcome. My goal in these comments will be to provide a complementary formal analysis of some of the issues exposed by the paper, using a diagrammatic approach. This approach can clearly show the gains and losses from annexation that accrue to the various parties, as well as revealing whether an annexation is socially desirable in an overall sense.

Drawing on the insightful synthesis of recent Supreme Court cases on expenditure and spending limits on ballot propositions by Richard Hasen, I briefly review the justifications for regulating levels of campaign contributions and expenditures in the initiative/referendum process based on claims about the critical importance of money in politics. My focus here will be on evidentiary issues rather than jurisprudence, per se. I focus on the important question “Where’s the beef?” – that is, exactly what evidence is needed to demonstrate that money can play a sufficiently pernicious and pervasive role in the initiative campaign process such that a balancing test against the scope of impingements on First Amendment rights is appropriate? I argue that the state of social science knowledge is not yet such that universal generalizations about the role of money in politics can be supported. Nonetheless, it is reasonable for courts to allow legislatures regulating the initiative process to rely on informative case studies as their grounding for the regulatory options chosen, rather than “waiting for Godot” in the form of definitive social science research. I also provide some suggestions as to the types of research that would both serve as important theoretical contributions in political science and be helpful for the courts in the future.

Thomas Stratmann’s The Effectiveness of Money in Ballot Measure Campaigns and Richard Hasen’s Rethinking the Unconstitutionality of Contribution and Expenditure Limits in Ballot Measure Campaigns form a nice pair. Both question existing understandings of the empirics of campaign finance but from different perspectives. Stratmann investigates the central empirical issue in the area: the connection between campaign spending and campaign success. He questions the body of studies that find surprisingly little impact of the former on the latter, points out the conflict between this result and contemporary political practice, and identifies a methodological flaw common to all the studies. At the end he proposes a different way of modeling such spending – one that takes spending strategy into account – and finds that the influence of campaign spending on outcomes is more robust than the existing body of empirical work indicates.

Most Americans live in a hybrid democracy: a democratic system that is neither wholly representative nor wholly direct, but a complex combination of both at the local and state levels, which in turn influences national politics. One characteristic of a hybrid system is that politicians, interest groups, and political parties strategically use initiatives to affect voter turnout in candidate elections, to increase their membership rolls and the funds in their political war chests, and to evade campaign finance restrictions that apply in many candidate races. The use of the initiative process by politicians and parties is not new, but it seems to be increasing in recent years, or at least it is more salient. Savvy political actors are using what Thad Kousser and Mathew McCubbins call “crypto-initiatives,” which are “initiatives… designed by agenda setters… who have other goals in mind [than changing public policy]; for them, affecting policy is often at most a secondary concern.” Most of the initiatives that Kousser and McCubbins go on to describe are generated or manipulated by candidates, political parties, or other political actors seeking to aid the campaigns of particular candidates or parties.