Amendment 27 seeks to change campaign finance
“Those who believe that Amendment 27 will make big-money special interests throw up their hands and say, “Wow, with these new rules we won’t be able to support candidates who support our cause in any meaningful way so we’ll just play by the spirit of Amendment 27′ are supremely naive,” says Nate Gorman of Protect Freedom 2002, a committee formed to fight the proposal.
Amendment 27 would set limits on the amount of money individuals and Political Action Committees can give candidates. It would also set spending limits to curb the amount of money spent in a race overall.
The measure would ban corporations and unions from giving money to candidates, similar to laws in place at the federal level. It also requires better disclosure for so-called “educational committees,” which push a political agenda, such as the environment or tobacco industry interests.
Proponents, led by Coloradans for Campaign Reform and Colorado Common Cause, say Amendment 27 would require full and frequent disclosure of campaign contributions and campaign spending as well as end anonymous attack ads. They say it would also enforce new campaign laws with tough penalties for candidates and contributors who violate the law, says Peter Maysmith of Colorado Common Cause, an Amendment 27 supporter.
“In Colorado we find that the problem stems from big special-interest money dominating who’s able to run for office and who wins,” Maysmith says. “Most Coloradans aren’t able to give thousands of dollars to participate in politics and have their voice heard; this reform would make it necessary for successful candidates to court the citizens they seek to represent, and not just the wealthiest special interests.”
Gorman and other opponents, however, say campaign contributions are a form of constitutionally protected free political expression. They also say Amendment 27 would be immediately challenged in court and that it would probably be thrown out because the courts have already upheld the validity of political education committees.
“First and foremost, Amendment 27 does not put any real restrictions in place on millionaire candidates who self-fund their own elections,” Gorman says. “The proponents of Amendment 27 acknowledge the courts prohibit such restrictions, and say that wealthy candidates will always have a financial advantage over everyone else.”
“Here in Colorado, we have a history of wealthy candidates failing to win elections by spending millions of dollars of their own money,” Maysmith says. “One example is Bruce Benson’s failed race for governor in 1994.”
In 1994, the cost of the governor’s race rose dramatically when Roy Romer and Bruce Benson spent a combined $9 million, including $2 million from Benson’s personal fortune.
“It’s true that we can’t limit a candidate’s personal spending, because the Supreme Court has decided that to do so would violate the candidate’s First Amendment rights,” Maysmith says.
He said rich candidates are not the problem – or the point of Amendment 27.
Maysmith says Amendment 27 will also go a long way to fix the problem of the so-called “educational committees.” He says it requires full disclosure of the money given to these committees as well as the occupation and employer of the individual making the contribution.
“This will end the anonymous attack ads and mailers that go out right before an election, and let voters know who is really behind a committee or ad,” Maysmith says.
Tobacco giant Phillip Morris gave $63,000 to 53 of the 100 sitting legislators in Colorado in the span of less than three months last year, Maysmith says. The cost of the average state Senate race shot up to $124,000 in 2000, nearly a four-fold increase over the cost of a Senate race in 1994 and 1998, he says.
In the few months immediately preceding the 2002 legislative session, Phillip Morris gave over $70,000 to members of the state Legislature in the hopes of passing a bill that would make it more difficult to sue the industry for tobacco-related illnesses, Maysmith says.
Amendment 27 would ban those kinds of direct contributions from corporations and unions, who often fund educational committee ads, Maysmith says.
Not true, Gorman says.
“These interests will simply shift their contributions and efforts to educational committees,” Gorman says. “The only restriction in Amendment 27 on educational committees is disclosure of their donors – the same as current law with donors to candidate committees.”
– Limits campaign contributions to $200 for congressional races.
– Limits campaign contributions to $500 for statewide races, such as Senate and governor.
– Limits or alters campaign spending by so-called “education committees.”
– Limits or bans direct contributions from labor unions and corporations to candidates.