527s rule now

Democratic mayors (and one independent) in Garfield County are upset that energy companies are funneling money to groups advertising on behalf of Republican candidates for county commissioner.

State Rep. Bernie Buescher is angry about a mailer from a Colorado Springs conservative Christian group that attempts to link Buescher to a wealthy gay activist in Denver.

Buescher’s opponent, Laura Bradford, has been understandably irate about advertising from an out-of-area group that — quite falsely — tried to portray Bradford as unsympathetic to the plight of cancer victims.

Bradford is a cancer survivor herself.

And we haven’t even touched on the millions of dollars being spent by independent groups in opposition to both major-party presidential candidates.

Welcome to the modern world of political campaigning, where groups independent of candidates and political parties raise large sums of money and spend it without the approval or oversight of the candidates and their campaigns. Too often, they distort facts or make patently false claims.

These independent campaign groups, mostly called 527s after the section in the IRS code that regulates them, are the ugly stepchildren of recent efforts to limit the amount of money given directly to candidates and political parties. Those efforts were largely pushed by people sincerely concerned about the influence of money in politics, but people who ignored the warnings from many others that the money would simply seek other avenues to political influence.

The unintended consequences of the reforms pushed in the last 20 years are independent groups with large amounts of cash, that are less transparent than candidates’ campaign organizations and are not accountable to candidates, political parties or the public.

As this newspaper has long argued, it would be better to allow larger direct contributions to the candidates or parties, improve transparency, then let voters decide whether the donations a candidate received were reasons to vote for or against that person.

As for the Garfield County mayors’ complaints, former Congressman Scott McInnis is right. Those involved with the energy industry have just as much right as environmental groups or anyone else to donate money through the approved political process. Obviously, they are obligated to meet the reporting requirements under state law. Any group that hasn’t should face legal sanctions.

Perhaps it won’t be long before the mayors form their own 527 to raise and spend money in support of their political views.


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