Did you know that Colorado campaign finance law allows for millionaires to spend unlimited amounts of their own money on a statewide campaign? And as a nonwealthy candidate, you must abide strictly by campaign finance law limits, which restricts the amount of money you can raise for your campaign to $1,150 per person?
Does that strike you as creating a level playing field? We don’t think so. We believe that simply allows very wealthy individuals to buy elected office.
The introductory paragraph of Article XXVIII of our Colorado Constitution states the purpose for our campaign finance law is to prevent ”large contributions from corrupting outcomes.” It says:
“The people of the state of Colorado hereby find and declare that large campaign contributions to political candidates create the potential for corruption and the appearance of corruption; that large campaign contributions made to influence election outcomes allow wealthy individuals, corporations, and special interest groups to exercise a disproportionate level of influence over the political process; that the rising costs of campaigning for political office prevent qualified citizens from running for political office…”
Under law, wealthy candidates have an unfair advantage in elections because current campaign finance provisions allow them to contribute vast sums of their personal resources to their campaigns while limiting other candidates to low contribution limits dictated by law.
Colorado’s limits on individual contributions rank among the lowest in the country and candidates who rely on individual contributions from their friends and neighbors are at a significant disadvantage in communicating their message to voters. The campaign finance reforms in Amendment 75 offer an effective way to encourage competitive elections by making them fairer.
What we have is an unintended consequence of the original campaign finance law that must be fixed. Perhaps the authors didn’t imagine a time when Colorado millionaires and New York billionaires would use what we call the “millionaire loophole” in the law that allows them to spend personal fortunes like limiting everyone else.
For instance, Republican Vic Mitchell spent $5 million in the Republican primary. Out-of-state people like New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg and anti-fracking environmentalist Tom Steyer have dumped millions into Colorado races. Jared Polis has spent at least $18 million — and probably more than that by the time the next campaign finance report comes around. In fact, Polis has done this repeatedly while running not only for governor this year, but in the past, spent an unusual amount of money on a state school board seat — $1.2 million against an opponent who spent $10,000. He’s also spent millions running for Congress.
If Colorado campaign finance laws limit some candidates while allowing others to spend personal fortunes this a very unfair situation and prevents qualified candidates from running for public office, if they must compete unfairly against millionaires.
Far from the original intent of campaign finance laws, the unintended consequence of the millionaire loophole is that Colorado has created an unfair disparity between candidates, which was contrary to the original purpose of the campaign finance law. That’s not good for our state because the millionaire loophole allows millionaire candidates to become the “special interest” that campaign finance laws were created to stop.
Amendment 75 is very simple: It will amend current campaign finance law to say that “if a candidate contributes or loans $1 million or more of their own money to their campaign or to a third party organization by coordinating with them, then other candidates in that same race may try to raise and accept aggregate campaign contributions five times the regular limit specified in current law.” We believe that is fair.
Amendment 75 is a simple fix to the unintended consequence of the millionaire loophole. The equitable thing to do is level the playing field for nonwealthy candidates who don’t have the personal financial resources to give their campaigns millions of dollars. Increasing the current limit for them is a fair and effective way of encouraging competitive elections where wealthy candidates otherwise attempt to “buy elected office” with their personal fortunes.
Vote YES on Amendment 75 and close the millionaire loophole.
B.J. Nikkel is a former Colorado state representative and Greg Brophy a former state senator.