Amendment 54 cuts political giving in Colorado | VailDaily.com

Amendment 54 cuts political giving in Colorado

Jessica Fender
The Denver Post

Political fundraising in Colorado had an end-of-2008 rush, then slowed dramatically as 2009 brought a voter-approved ban on contributions from certain government contractors and their kin.

A comparison of the first quarters of 2009 and 2005 – the most recent similar cycle – shows a decline in fundraising by anywhere from a fifth to two- thirds since the ban took effect.

The amendment prohibits political contributions from anyone tied to a company or nonprofit that receives a government no-bid contract of $100,000 or greater. Those barred from giving include people on charitable boards that do business with the state and executives of public utilities.

The amendment’s proponents say it’s aimed at discouraging the giving of campaign contributions in exchange for favors such as contracts and board appointments.

Its critics, who have filed suit to block the amendment’s effects, argue it is too far-reaching and violates free-speech rights for those affected. Trial on the suit begins Monday in Denver District Court.

“You have business, labor, Republicans, Democrats, nonprofit entities, for-profit entities all challenging the constitutionality of this law,” said lawyer Doug Friednash, who’s representing part of the anti-54 case.

They’re asking the court to suspend the restriction on campaign contributions, but would leave intact another piece of the amendment that requires public posting of large no-bid contracts.

A Denver Post analysis of campaign disclosures suggests a change in fundraising patterns since voters narrowly approved Amendment 54 in November.

Candidates at the state and local levels almost tripled their cash intake in the last half of November compared with the previous cycle’s November 2004. And in December, those donations to all candidates were four times what 2004 candidates received – reaching almost $250,000 that month – disclosures show.

The end-of-year rush reminded political consultant Katie Atkinson of the days when political contributions were tax deductible and everyone scrambled to squeeze them in before the end of the year.

“It was a logical move once it (Amendment 54) passed in November and before it took effect, if people had questions, to go ahead and make their contributions,” Atkinson said.

But the cash flow slowed dramatically in the first quarter of 2009, just after the advent of Amendment 54, falling off by as much as two-thirds in February compared with February 2005.

Denver lawyer Robert Liechty filed a friend-of-the- court brief supporting the amendment. He points to estimates by the Institute on Money in State Politics that show Coloradans spent $90 million on state races and ballot initiatives in 2008, and he said maybe pulling some of the cash out of state politics is a good thing.

“There’s too much influence of money,” Liechty said.

It’s been an unusually quiet spring for prominent Denver lawyer and Democratic contributor Steve Farber.

He’s foregone his typical routine of writing checks and hosting candidate fundraisers because he sits on the boards of the University ofDenver and Children’s Hospital. Both have no-bid contracts with a government entity, and so he’s had to choose between civic service and political giving, he said.

“I’m saving money, but I’m bored,” Farber quipped. The message is “don’t serve civically if you want to participate in politics. It’s absurd.”

While some of the fundraising dip may be attributed to single-source contractors and their families refraining from giving, it’s also true that lawyers across the state are waiting for clarity on how the rules will be implemented, said Mike Celetti, new spokesman for the group backing the amendment.

In the meantime, Celetti said, the word on the street is: Better safe than sorry.

Once the court case is settled and the secretary of state’s office puts rules in place, he thinks campaign fundraising will see a rebound.

“What you’re really seeing is an uncertain marketplace,” Celetti said. If the ban itself “really is quashing fundraising, the only people who give money to campaigns are sole- source contractors.”

The rule change has contributed to “a perfect storm” of funding difficulties, said David Kenney, who is running Gov. Bill Ritter’s re-election campaign in one of the highest profile and most expensive races to fall under the restrictions.

Neither of Ritter’s two declared GOP challengers collected funds in the first quarter of 2009, records show.

While Ritter took in a healthy haul of $129,000 in December, the post-54 environment has been more austere.

Ritter raised about $57,000 in the months of January and March. In February, the campaign raised $3,500.

By contrast, the only gubernatorial candidate raising money over that stretch in 2005 brought in double Ritter’s current cash on hand – a little more than $125,000 – in one month.

Marc Holtzman, a Republican who lost the primary for the 2006 governor’s race, raised a total of $418,000 in the first quarter of 2005.

Kenney, who gave up his seat on the Downtown Denver Partnership board to continue running Ritter’s campaign, points to the downturned economy as another factor. He expects Ritter to have a few hundred thousand dollars on hand by the end of June thanks to re-upped efforts at online and grassroots solicitations, he said.

“Its definitely slowed down fundraising across the board for Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “Many of us were astonished at the breadth and the reach of 54. It’s silly.”


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