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Democrats announce bills to curb the influence of money in politics

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House Democrats on Wednesday announced a package of legislation aimed at curbing the influence of money in politics.

“It is no secret that there is a lot of cynicism about political entities today and the dark money that is spent on political campaigns,” House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, said at an afternoon news conference at the Capitol. “Last year’s election was one of the worst examples we have seen.”

Democrats, who have a majority in the House, announced four pieces of legislation:

  • House Bill 1262 would require all electioneering between the primary and general elections be subject to disclosures, allowing voters to examine who is spending money to influence the vote, and closing a gap in reporting;
  • House Bill 1261 would require a description of the entities that are spending money to influence elections with “paid for by” disclaimers on all electioneering material;
  • House Bill 1259 would subject candidates to constitutional contribution limits after the Colorado Court of Appeals made it possible for a candidate to create an independent committee to potentially receive unlimited donations; and
  • House Bill 1260 would limit individual contributions for county candidates to $2,500 per election cycle. Corporate contributions would continue to be prohibited.

Colorado has contribution limits for all state candidates, but there are no limits for county races.

Individuals in Colorado are allowed to donate up to $400 per cycle – including primary and general elections – to House and Senate candidates. Statewide candidates, including for governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer, are capped at $1,150.

Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, said there have been instances in county races of contributions as high as $40,000 from wealthy individuals.

“That’s not the way it should be,” Kennedy said. “We need to be able to level the playing field so that all candidates who are competing to run for office have to … make the connections in the community through the hard work of building support and raising the contributions you need.”

Colorado Ethics Watch last week released data showing that at least $1.9 million was spent on political ads during the “gap” between the date of the 2016 primary and the beginning of the 60-day electioneering disclosure window.

There is a gap in reporting between the end of June and early September, despite the fact that political spending continues all summer. Ethics Watch says the $1.9 million figure is on the conservative side, as it was only able to review spending by groups that must disclose all spending under other laws.

“It was like assembling a puzzle with many pieces missing … ” said Peg Perl, an attorney for Ethics Watch. “What we’re left with is millions of dollars being spent for political prizes in Colorado with little to no information or assurances.”

The bills announced by Democrats on Wednesday do not have Republican sponsorship, though sponsors say they will work to find bipartisan support. The measures would need to also clear the Republican-controlles Senate.

First-year lawmakers are sponsoring the package of legislation in a calculated move.

“We learned first-hand what it takes to build roots in the community and to try to build a campaign with small, local donations,” Kennedy said. “We need to level the playing field so that every candidate competing for office has to put in the work to build connections in the community.”

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