Shirley Jin and Peggy Leech from the League of Women Voters of Boulder County, Campaign Finance Reform Team, whose focus is on Money in Politics.
Money in politics is the money that is spent on political campaigns and lobbying. Election spending mostly goes to glitzy media advertisements designed to win elections. Our representatives in Washington are expected, by their political parties, to spend at least 50% of their time calling potential donors and attending fund raisers. Consequently, our federal elected representatives focus on the issues of the wealthy.
The laws that govern our federal campaign finance system were established in 1971, and their erosion began with the 1976 Supreme Court ruling that makes money equivalent to speech. More recently, additional rulings by the Supreme Court have established that corporations and unions are considered to have the same rights to free speech as people. Corporations and unions are able to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. In addition, there are Super PACs and Dark Money spending that is not reported to the Federal Elections Commission. Just the reported donations in the 2016 Federal elections reached almost 7 billion dollars.
Outside spending dwarfs the spending by candidates in many races. For example, in the Colorado Senate race in 2014, over $100 million was spent on the race, and the two candidates spent only $32 million combined. So, almost $70 million came from outside sources.
These outside sources may be corporations, Super PACs, or other interest groups funded by wealthy businesses and individuals. Wealthy citizens and organized business interest groups have substantial impact on US government policy while average citizens have little or no influence. Large campaign investments pay major benefits in the form of government contracts, tax breaks, and favorable regulations. Consequently, the wealthiest 1% of Americans will soon own 50% of the wealth of the country.
Colorado voters approved Amendment 27 in 2002. This amendment added campaign finance limits and disclosure requirements to the constitution. But because of the Federal Supreme Court rulings, Colorado has seen an influx of money into state elections, much of it from out of state and not disclosed.
Four bills were introduced in the Colorado legislature on March 15, a few days ago, to address some of the problems of big money in Colorado elections.
House Bill 1260 adds fundraising limits for county officials, since Amendment 27 only applies to state officials.
House Bills 1261 and 1262 tighten up some of the disclosure requirements. These bills would make it easier to see where the money in our elections is coming from.
House Bill 1259 would prevent candidates from controlling their own independent expenditure committees, which can raise and spend an unlimited amount of money.
People can contact their state legislators to urge passage of these bills. Legislators need to hear the people’s voice loudly and clearly.
More information on Money in Politics can be found at lwvbc.org.