Report: Reclaiming Our Democracy

Pass or Fail

Mid-term Grades for the Colorado Congressional Delegation’s Response to Amendment 65
Released by: CoPIRG

Special interest money has long had a corrosive effect on our politics, giving powerful special interests undue influence in the democratic process and drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens. In 2010, the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision made the problem worse by removing election spending limits for corporations and wealthy individuals and starting a new era of unprecedented spending on our elections.

As anticipated, the first major election after Citizens United shattered spending records, with over $7 billion in the 2012 cycle. This included an extraordinary $1 billion in outside spending, i.e. spending not coordinated with candidate committees. Outside spending ballooned after another 2010 ruling, v. FEC that struck contribution limits to committees spending independently of candidate committees.

The biggest problem was not the amount of money, but that much of it came from just a handful of individuals and special interests giving them the ability to drown out the voices of everyday citizens. In 2012, it took just 32 donors to super PACs to match the combined donations that 3.7 million Americans gave to Obama and Romney .

Coloradans experienced the deluge first hand as outside groups spent $5.5 million on federal House races across the state. 56% of this money, or $3.3 million, was spent by Super PACs. 33% came from dark money groups . A whopping 98.92% of all outside spending in Colorado House races came from groups registered outside of Colorado . Out-of-state spenders are likely to put their own priorities ahead of the needs and interests of Coloradans, thus skewing the relationships that Representatives have with their constituencies.

In the face of this deluge, Coloradans overwhelmingly voted in favor of Amendment 65, which directs Colorado’s members of Congress and State Legislature to approve a constitutional amendment to allow for campaign contribution and spending limits, one of the few ways Coloradans have to push back against unlimited outside spending. The measure passed statewide with 74% of the vote, and passed in every single county in Colorado . 

Download our report above for a complete Amendment 65 County by County Breakdown

Nearly a year later and almost half-way through the term of the 113th Congress, it is past time for the Colorado delegation to act. To measure which Congress members are taking their voters seriously and which ones are not, we graded them on whether they had taken a simple yet important step to follow the wishes of Colorado voters. Did they introduce or cosponsor a constitutional amendment that would fulfill the call to action of Amendment 65?

Any Congress member who has not taken this simple action receives a failing grade. Any that have sponsored or co-sponsored one of the 14 that currently exist received a passing grade. 

Senator Bennet                   PASS
Senator Udall                     PASS
Representative Coffman    FAIL
Representative DeGette     FAIL
Representative Gardner     FAIL
Representative Lamborn    FAIL
Representative Perlmutter  PASS
Representative Polis           FAIL
Representative Tipton        FAIL

For those Congress members who have failing grades, the time is now to begin fulfilling the will of their constituents. Those Congress members with passing grades should not rest on their laurels. Endorsing a constitutional amendment is not the same as passing one. Over the next few months, they need to move beyond simple endorsements and start working with Congress members from other states, especially the 16 states that have passed resolutions or passed ballot measures supporting sensible limits to campaign spending by urging the passage of a constitutional amendment through Congress and to the states.

In the coming year, the Supreme Court is not expected to stop the flood, and may pave the way for even more money to come into our elections. Large donor Shaun McCutcheon and the RNC are suing the Federal Election Commission to lift the overall contribution limit, that is, the limit on what an individual can give to all candidates and parties in an election cycle.  That limit right now is $123,000 – or about 250% of the average household income in the U.S. Without the limit, donors who want to give to every candidate and committee in one party could contribute up to $3.5 million.

The Supreme Court has previously upheld contribution limits, but the Court has been creating new campgin finance precedent in recent years. If overturned, campaign fundraising directly to candidates and parties will look a lot like super PAC fundraising. While even now most candidates raise a majority of their funds from a subset of wealthy donors and corporate PACs, McCutcheon could make “joint fundraising committees” more attractive. These are where donations to several candidates are concentrated into one committee, which means the money goes into the hands of even fewer individuals. Without an aggregate limit, these joint fundraising committees will go from being able to collect $123,200 to $7.2 million dollars per donor, creating a new class of mega-campaign-donors . This would be an increase of 5,744%.  Consider that only 1,399 people gave over $100,000 to federal candidates in 2012. If just 170, or 12% of those donors had given $3.5 million, they could have matched the small contributions of ordinary Americans to every single federal candidate, including Obama and Romney.

To make sure Colorado has the tools to close the floodgates, Colorado’s Congress members should to fulfill the will of the people and work aggressively to pass a constitutional amendment to allow for campaign spending limits.

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