Townhall: Money & Politics
June 21, 2010
For those of you who could not make it, our last townhall meeting on June 17, was on "Money & Politics". We were extremely lucky to be joined by:
- Bernie Buescher, Secretary of State
- Jenny Rose Flanagan, Colorado Common Cause
- Jon Caldera, Independence Institute
- Martha Tierney, Election, Campaign Finance Attorney
The panelists covered a wide range of topics from how much money is spent on our elections, how the public can trace the money and where the current loopholes are. The panel discussed the impact of Citizens United US Supreme Court case.
As of the time of writing this post $2.3 billion dollars has already been spent on the 2010 election on campaigns. (www.opensecrets.org).
Yet, a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions has opened the floodgates for money on politics. The original line of decisions decided that "money" was "speech" and the recent line of cases (Citizens United) went further to decide that "corporations" were also "people". The net effect is that the ability for wealthy individuals or rich corporations to bring an influx of cash to our elections is given a great deal of 1st Amendment protections.
Some of the issues raised are:
- Have we moved away from one person, one vote?
- If money is "speech", do rich people have more speech rights than others?
- If corporations are "people" do they in essence get 2 votes?
- Do limits on campaign finace contributions level the playing field or drive donations underground?
- Is the free flow of money in politics really just an extension of a "free market"?
- What are the possibilities of publicly financed campaigns to help reduce the role of special interest money in elections?
- Does special interest money influence access or shape public policy?
- How can regular citizens find out who is behind political ads?
Colorado has a few basic features as a part of campaign finance reform that you should know (that the voters approved):
- $400 limits a candidate can receive from an individual or PAC;
- Any contribution beyond that can not be coordinated with the candidate but could be spent as an independent expenditure;
- Colorado prohibited direct contributions from corporate or union treasury to candidates or from making independent expenditures from their direct treasury;
- Colorado law prohibits contributions from foreign individuals.
The decision in Citizens United removed the prohibition against corporations and labor unions making independent expenditures, which has opened up the prospect of potentially unlimited amounts of money from previously prohibited sources. SB 203 (M. Carroll - Weissmann) was brought to at least close the disclosure loopholes, however, Colorado voters will not be inundated with new sources of previously prohibited campaign transactions.
Tools for Voters: In order to know where and how to follow the money, every voter should be armed with the following:
- Secretary of State's website: provides state candidate, PAC, 527, Issue committee, small donor committee disclosure, and lobbyist disclosures and will now include independent expenditure committees. Their website is:http://www.sos.state.co.us/
- Follow the Money. org: this website provides great information about macro trends about who is donated where, to which candidates, and which parties. It is particularly helpful to identify the spending of various special interest groups. Their website is: http://www.followthemoney.org/
- Open Secrets. org: this website provides great information about macro trends about who is donated where, to which candidates, and which parties. It is particularly helpful to identify the spending of various special interest groups. Their website is: http://www.opensecrets.org/
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