Since the US Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, corporations and the wealthy have increased their political contributions exponentially. We’re seeing the effect of that decision here in Colorado as the oil and gas industry pours more than $30 million into this election cycle and too many of our state-level elected officials feel beholden to the fracking industry.
In the 2015 municipal election contributions to candidates totaled more than $4.6 million, with 26 percent of donations coming from corporations and Political Action Committees (PACS). City residents across the political spectrum agree — our campaign finance system is broken. As campaigns become more about who can raise the most money and not about who has the best ideas, big money is drowning out residents’ voices, blocking access to our elected officials, and causing paralysis in government. It’s time to get big money out of our politics.
Denver voters have the opportunity to vote on two measures on the ballot November meant to limit the corrosive effect of money in politics. One is an innovative proposal that gives voters more equal weight in elections. The other is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, disguised as a reform measure but actually a license to flood elections with even more money.
Question 2E — the Democracy for the People Initiative — on the ballot in Denver is a citizen-initiated measure, unanimously referred to the ballot by Denver City Council. The goal of the referred measure is to rid politics and our elections of the corrupting influence of big money. It bans corporations from donating directly to campaigns in Denver, like they are currently banned on the state and federal level, while maintaining the newly passed requirements on disclosing dark money spent in elections. It lowers the city’s relatively high campaign contribution limits to be on the scale of Colorado’s more reasonable statewide limits.
The most exciting part of measure 2E is that it creates a publicly financed campaign system by providing 9-to-1 matching funds for small-dollar donations ($50 and less) to candidates who opt not to accept any PAC money in their campaigns.
Common Cause and the Working Families Party strongly believe that elected officials should act only in the best interests of their constituents regardless of who their donors are. 2E would rein in the undue influence of large contributors and make our city electeds more responsive to their constituents. We want every voice in the community to be heard, not just the voices with wealth or influence. In addition to reducing the corrupting influence of money in politics, programs like these around the country have increased voter turnout and civic engagement in communities of color. Running for office no longer means needing to have great wealth or connections to wealth. Without money as a barrier, more diverse candidates run and get elected, including more young people, women, and people of color. And with public financing, our governing institutions reflect their communities, passing the kind of laws that prioritize the public interest over the special interests.
While 2E offers Denver the opportunity for real improvement, Amendment 75, a statewide initiative supported by dark money, is disguised as campaign finance reform but actually gives more power to the wealthy. The measure proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to increase campaign contribution limits when a candidate loans, contributes, or directs more than $1 million to his or her own campaign. It would allow all candidates in these elections to collect five times the level of individual contributions currently allowed. The solution to too much money in politics is not more money in politics.
To combat the anti-democratic effects of Citizens United, we need comprehensive reform that includes public financing of elections. Measures like Denver’s Referred Question 2E are progress towards a more inclusive democracy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and the well connected.
Carlos Valverde is the state director for the Colorado Working Families Party. Amanda Gonzalez is the executive director for Colorado Common Cause.
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