Amendment 65 is right prescription for campaign funding
By Elena Nunez and Danny Katz
In its recent editorial opposing Amendment 65 on this year’s election ballot, The Daily Sentinel noted that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC “resulted in bad public policy.”
The editorial added, “Some way of reining in the excessive amounts of spending by corporations and other organizations is needed.”
We agree. We are surprised, however, that the editorial board chose then to oppose Amendment 65, which is aimed squarely at reining in big money in politics.
The problem of money in politics is not a new one, but with recent court rulings, it got a whole lot worse. The 5-4 Citizens United v. FEC ruling in 2010 opened the floodgates to unlimited contributions for “independent” expenditures.
The result was the creation of so-called Super PACs, which have come to dominate presidential and congressional campaigns. Two years later, we’re on pace for the most expensive election in history, tripling the previous record set in 2008.
The report, “Million-Dollar Megaphones,” by the CoPIRG Foundation and Demos, found that of the $230 million raised by Super PACs from individuals in the first two quarters of the 2012 election cycle, more than half (57.1 percent) came from just 47 people giving at least $1 million each. Just over 1,000 donors giving $10,000 or more were responsible for 94 percent of this fundraising.
As this report shows, when wealthy people and big corporations are allowed to contribute as much as they want, they will. Their money buys them a government that will look after their interests. And the rest of us, who can’t contribute big bucks are drowned out.
As we enter the home stretch of the election season, campaign spending is escalating. An analysis by the Sunlight Foundation found that, in just one week this month, more than $100 million was spent by outside groups trying to influence the election.
We need a way to rein this in.
Our best option is to pass a federal constitutional amendment that allows limits on campaign contributions and spending and ensures that all citizens, regardless of wealth, have an opportunity to speak.
Amendment 65 calls on Colorado’s congressional representatives to do just that. Colorado is a perfect state to send this message for two reasons.
First we have a strong history of working to reduce the influence of money in politics. Ten years ago, Colorado voters passed comprehensive campaign finance reform that set contribution limits, banned corporate contributions and required full disclosure of campaign spending. The Citizens United decision directly attacks this.
Second, Colorado is in the spotlight in this election season. We have a unique opportunity to push our elected officials to take action and send a message to the rest of the country that there is something we can do.
The Sentinel’s concern about “unneeded baggage” in the Colorado Constitution is misguided. Amendment 65 only changes two words in our constitution, replacing the words “encouraging voluntary” (campaign spending limits), replacing them with “establishing” (campaign spending limits).
Amendment 65 streamlines and strengthens the language in the Constitution. The rest of Amendment 65, including the language instructing our delegation to act, is in statute.
The Sentinel also questions the idea of voter instructions in two ways. First, the editors seem to insinuate that the only job of active citizens is to vote, then allow their representatives to take over. Second, they seem to suggest that if representatives were ever curious how their constituents felt about an issue, polling, town halls and focus groups are good enough.
Representative democracy is not limited to voting on Election Day. Representatives should hear from their constituents between elections, whether it is in the form of petitions, phone calls, town halls or district meetings. Insinuating that it’s inappropriate for constituents to direct their elected officials to do anything is insulting.
And why limit that information to polling and focus groups? There is nothing more accurate than having the very people who voted in your election indicate to you how they feel about an issue as part of that election.
Finally, voter instructions to elected officials, like Amendment 65, are part of American history. They were widely used in America’s early days and were key to the passage of the 17th Amendment for the direct election of U.S. senators.
Are elected leaders required to follow the instructions of their voters? No, just as they can ignore constituent phone calls, emails and petitions, they can ignore a statewide vote.
But that should not stop Colorado voters from expressing their opinion about this critical issue. Lawmakers who fail to honor those wishes will have to explain themselves to the voters.
Amendment 65 demands a better democracy — a more level playing field where the size of someone’s wallet doesn’t determine the loudness of their speech.
Amendment 65 is a powerful tool to send that message. We encourage every Colorado voter to participate in our representative democracy and use this tool to move us toward a level playing field in politics.
Elena Nunez is executive director of Colorado Common Cause. Danny Katz is the state director of CoPIRG.