It will come as no surprise to Coloradans force-fed a fire-hose stream of ugly and untrustworthy campaign election material over the last two years that independent spending– spending directly tied to no candidate and mostly free of accountability– more than tripled in the state from 2008 to 2010. This according to a recent report released by watchdog group Follow the Money, which singles out Colorado for study. The authors report that, although the state has relatively strong disclosure laws, larger changes in campaign finance rules have let loose here as everywhere in the country a storm of money and a sea of roiling paperwork that can cover over as much as it reveals.
The report makes clear that independent expenditures will continue to pour into the state in the tens of millions, generating high-volume few-strings-attached propaganda. Groups affiliated with other groups spun off from still other groups will continue to set up front companies to buy air time, create ads, and then essentially disappear. The ads will be a mess of exaggeration and distortion and it will become increasingly difficult to hold anyone responsible. We are living through a turbocharged age of Floyd Brown‘s “Willie Horton.”
In 2006, in statewide and legislative races, independent spending equaled only 2 percent of money donated directly to candidate campaigns in Colorado. Independent groups spent $380,000.
In the 2008 statewide, legislative and judicial races, independent spending shot up to 76 percent of money donated directly to candidate campaigns. Independent groups spent $7.5 million.
In post-Citizens United 2010, independent spending overtook donations to candidates to reach 130 percent. Independent groups spent $26 million.
In 2010, on the right, the big spending came from corporations and their representatives. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $4 million. American Justice Partnership, which pushes anti-regulation legislation, spent $1.7 million. Karl Rove’s American Crossroads spent $1.2 million and Altria, a tobacco industry group, spent $1.2 million.
On the left, advocacy and union groups doled out the cash. Top spending groups included Twenty First Century Colorado, which gave $2.7 million, Accountability for Colorado, which gave $1.5 million, and The Neighborhood Project, which gave $1.4 million.
Adding to those menacing statistics, the Follow the Money authors write that the state’s tough transparency laws are being absurdly undermined by well-funded groups who bungle their disclosure forms.
“Filers seem to be filling out the independent expenditure and electioneering forms incorrectly,” they write. “For example, several conservative groups, such as Focus on the Family and Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government, reported spending in support of Democrats, an unlikely event.”
The Follow the Money report is worth reading in full. It includes links to donations made by the organizations listed.
Fix Congress First is one of the groups formed in the last election cycle to try and do something to combat the waterfall of corrupting money in politics.