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Michele Swenson

Michele Swenson

Posted: May 6, 2010 12:35 PM

Clean Campaigns Colorado Initiative 53 -- Antidote to 'Big Money' Elections

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The corruption of corporate patronage that is evident in every area of public policy-making, from health care reform centered on for-profit insurances, to energy and financial institutions lacking adequate regulation and oversight, has been placed on steroids since ultraconservatives gained dominion over the U.S. Supreme Court.

Recent 5-to-4 U.S. Supreme Court decisions around campaign election funding have been framed to advantage the wealthy, e.g., equating money with free speech - i.e., those with large sums of money enjoy unlimited free speech, those without do not. The Court's decisions have effectively overturned as "unconstitutional" campaign law precedents intended to level the playing field for all candidates.

Note: All of the majority in recent 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court campaign finance decisions (Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito) have been members of the Federalist Society - a training ground since 1982 for ultraconservative lawyers who have populated Republican administrations and provide a backbench to fill judgeships. Among its aims, the Federalist Society seeks to broadly reverse regulatory reforms and civil rights advances.

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the "Millionaire's Amendment" of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which was enacted to level the playing field by preventing massive personal spending by wealthy candidates from drowning out voices of other candidates (and ironically, to counter the impression that congressional seats can be purchased). The Court majority in this 5-to-4 ruling argued that the provision violated free-speech protections (of millionaires) - in brief, federal election laws cannot be used "to disadvantage candidates who choose to use their own money to run for Congress" - conversely, "it's okay to disadvantage candidates lacking wealth."

The U.S. Supreme Court further unleashed unlimited election spending by corporations in the 2010 decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The ruling grants corporations the same First Amendment free-speech rights as individuals, again equating unlimited campaign spending to free speech. The remedy, wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, is to counter undue influence of speech in American politics with even more speech - i.e., citizens merely need to "spend more money."

Federal remedies are vital to counter the undue influence of this massive infusion of corporate money on elections, including a Constitutional Amendment advanced by Move to Amend and the Fair Elections Now Act, etc.

Three states to date - Connecticut, Maine and Arizona - have proactively passed Clean Campaigns initiatives/laws since 1998 to create a level playing field in state elections. Candidate participation, voluntary in all 3 states, has increased from 30% to over 90% in Maine within just 8 years. See Video.

A Colorado group of activists has spearheaded a grassroots movement for Clean Campaigns Colorado. They recently submitted Ballot Initiative #53, for voluntary candidate participation in public campaign funding. CCC funding differs somewhat from other states. Whereas, Arizona depends principally on surcharges on fines and penalties and tax checkoffs, primary funding of the Colorado initiative is by a nominal tax - $5 to $10 per individual, $10 to $20 per joint tax return annually - regarded as a small price to pay for Clean Election Campaigns.

Candidates who choose to participate also raise a limited number of small donations as seed money. Instead of allotting a fixed amount to all candidates as in Arizona, Colorado Clean Campaigns candidates are each allotted an amount equal to the average cost of winning campaigns in his/her district over the past two election cycles.

Questioned about the need for the initiative, group leader Jim Hoffmeister notes that Clean Campaigns Colorado would make for more competitive races, reduce the time candidates spend raising money and increase the time they have available to see to constituent concerns.

Volunteer circulators are collecting petition signatures, with a goal of 120,000 before July 12, to place Initiative 53 on the November ballot.