Reform effort making big push

Campaign finance at heart of initiative

Keywords: Poll question,

The flood of money into political television ads has caught the eye of campaign-finance reformers, who are pushing Initiative 82.

They turned in 177,000 petition signatures to the secretary of state, double the number needed. Pending a review to make sure signatures are valid, it is highly likely Initiative 82 will make the ballot and be renamed Proposition 104.

It would change Colorado statutes to “instruct” the state’s nine members of Congress to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to allow Congress and the states to limit campaign spending and fundraising. It also tells the state Legislature to vote to approve such an amendment, if it ever is passed by Congress.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 ruled that corporations and individuals can spend unlimited money on political campaigns. Since then, a few dozen donors have made $1 million-plus contributions to “Super PACs,” a new form of political committee that can be exempt from campaign-finance limits. By amending the U.S. Constitution, activists hope to obliterate the Supreme Court ruling.

Colorado has had at least one previous ballot measure that tried to “instruct” members on Congress on how to vote. In 1996, supporters of term limits tried to get members of Congress to amend the Constitution in favor of term limits, but courts threw out the initiative because it tried to attach anti-term limits labels onto candidates’ names on the ballot. Supporters of the campaign-finance measure this year have not opted for such a public shaming, and they think their measure can withstand legal scrutiny.

Arguments for: Everyone, rich or poor, should be subject to the same campaign-donation limits, but the Supreme Court’s ruling is allowing a handful of rich people to wield too great an influence over American elections. Only individual citizens, and not corporations, should be allowed to spend money on campaigns.

Arguments against: Previous campaign-finance laws have created a complicated system that favors rich organizations. The First Amendment bars government limits on speech, including political TV ads and other expensive forms of campaigning.

Campaign money: The nonprofit Fair Share Alliance contributed $365,000 to run the pro-82 ballot campaign. As a nonprofit, the donors are secret. But Fair Share Alliance has close ties to a host of other progressive and Democrat-aligned groups in Washington, D.C., and Boston.