CongressElection 2018News

Democrat Jason Crow unveils campaign reform package, challenges Coffman to reject ‘dark money’

Author: Ernest Luning - February 27, 2018 - Updated: February 27, 2018

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Jason CrowDemocratic congressional candidate Jason Crow talks about his campaign finance reform proposals during an interview with Colorado Politics on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, at Stanley Marketplace in Aurora. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

Democratic congressional candidate Jason Crow on Tuesday released a set of proposals to “end the corrupting influence of big money in politics” and called on U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, the Republican incumbent, to join him in a pledge to keep undisclosed “dark money” spending out of the race for the suburban swing seat.

“We don’t have to wait for change. We can make our politics more transparent now. We can lead today,” Crow said in a statement.

Crow, one of four Democrats running in the 6th Congressional District, outlined a package covering campaign practices and legislation — including support for one bill Coffman is sponsoring, the Honest Ads Act — aimed at “ending the flood of unlimited and undisclosed money that is drowning out the voices of regular people.”

He’s already said he won’t take campaign contributions from corporate political action committees and has been hammering Coffman for the nearly $1.7 million the incumbent has raised from corporate PACs since he won the seat in 2008.

“In this campaign, I am rejecting money from corporate special interest. And today, I’m challenging Mike Coffman to pledge to keep secret ‘dark money’ out of this race,” Crow said. “Coloradans deserve to know who is paying for the political ads on their TVs as well as the agenda behind those ads. Mike Coffman can choose to respect Coloradans instead of aiding and abetting his shady donors.”

Crow said the joint pledge would work like this: “If a secret money group, or an outside group funded by secret money groups, spends money in this election to benefit a candidate, that candidate will donate half the amount spent to the charity of his opponent’s choice.”

His campaign proposes that spending over $1,000 — on “electioneering communications and so-called ‘issue ads’ that mention a candidate by name” — would trigger a donation. The campaigns would agree in advance on a neutral party to determine violations.

The 6th District has been the site of some of the country’s most expensive elections in recent cycles. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, only five House districts nationwide saw higher spending by outside groups in 2016, when third-party spending topped $13 million. (Coffman and his Democratic challenger, Morgan Carroll, raised and spent more than $3 million apiece on top of that.)

It wasn’t all “dark money” — spending by groups that aren’t required to disclose their donors — but a share of it was, and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a group that gets some of its funding from other groups whose donors are kept secret, has already set up shop in the district this year to support Coffman, the Crow campaign pointed out.

A spokesman for the Coffman campaign told Colorado Politics he wanted to see the full details of Crow’s proposal before commenting but noted that it’s still four months until the June primary election, and Crow isn’t yet the Democratic nominee.

Crow’s proposal, dubbed his “Washington Reform Agenda,” also includes legislation to require political groups disclose election spending, forbid any companies with “foreign influence” to spend money on U.S. campaigns and support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that opened the door to so-called super PACs that can raise unlimited funds. Crow also vows to post his daily congressional schedule, including all meetings.

The candidate’s announcement comes a day after the release of a poll by End Citizens United, a national campaign finance reform group that has endorsed Crow and other Democrats, that suggests the topic could be a potent weapon this year in the battleground district.

According to the survey of 6th District voters conduced by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, 62 percent say they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who has sworn off contributions from “corporate special interests.”

Crow’s lead over Coffman jumps from 5 points to 10 points in the poll after survey respondents are told the Democrat “is not taking a dime” from corporate PACs while Coffman has “accepted $1.6 million from corporate PACs and just voted to give corporations a huge tax cut,” a reference to the massive tax reform bill passed by the GOP-controlled Congress late last year.

“Jason Crow is leading by example,” Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United, said in a statement. “His reform plan would bring transparency and accountability to Washington and help us unrig the system. Coloradans are fed up with politicians like Mike Coffman, who jump through hoops to satisfy their big donors, while ignoring people who need help the most. ”

Muller is set to appear Tuesday night in Aurora at a Crow rally also featuring Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who came under attack from then-candidate Donald Trump after Khan and his wife spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. Since 2009, he has been the senior political reporter and occasional editor for The Colorado Statesman.