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Public funding for political campaigns? It could happen in Denver

Author: Dan Njegomir - May 19, 2017 - Updated: June 6, 2017


You say it’s already taxing enough just listening to them, not to mention carting their campaign mailers to the recycle bin? OK, but maybe there’s more to it than that, so read on.

What single-payer is to the national health-care debate, publicly funded campaigns long have been to the movement for campaign-finance reform — a touchstone and panacea for the left even if it is an abomination for the right and maybe just counterintuitive for the many apolitical people out there.

It has been implemented in various states and municipalities, generally in places of a more liberal political tilt though there are some exceptions to that rule of thumb.

Now, as Denverite’s politics and government ace Erica Meltzer reports, Denver voters could be asked to consider such a policy. Petitions probably will start circulating within weeks — courtesy of the group Clean Slate Now — to gather enough signatures to place the issue on the November ballot. Meltzer reminds us this is actually the second such attempt at a ballot question for publicly funded campaigns in Denver in as many years, but last year’s version was derailed by a court challenge.

The plan is complicated — not nearly so simple, say, as giving candidates government vouchers to pay all or a portion of their campaign expenses — so we’ll borrow Meltzer’s description of the proposal’s key components:

  • It lowers the limit for individual donations to candidates. Right now, the mayor can accept up to $3,000 from a single individual, far more than the $575 that a candidate for governor can accept from an individual. Candidates for other citywide offices like auditor, clerk and record and at-large councilman can take $2,000 and candidates for district council seats can take $1,000. The ordinance would reduce that to $1,000 for mayor, $700 for citywide offices and $400 for district council seats.
  • It defines independent expenditures and adds them to the groups that have to make disclosures to the city.
  • It bans corporations and unions from donating to candidates.
  • It creates an $8 million fund to allow for public financing of elections. Candidates who opt-in to this system would agree to a certain number of public debates and would accept an even lower limit on individual contributions. The fund would match — at a rate of 9-to-1 — the first $50 of each individual contribution, that is, up to $450. There would be a cap on total city funds that would be given to any one candidate — $750,000 for mayor, $250,000 for other citywide offices and $125,000 for district council races. There would be no cap on total spending by candidates, as there is in some cities with public financing.

So, if you’re not up to doing your own taxes or perhaps assembling your kids’ swing set (the kind with a tunnel slide) in the back yard, this probably isn’t for you.

There is much more to this discussion. Naturally, its advocates / enthusiasts feel it has tremendous potential to clean up politics; smirking skeptics say it’ll merely squeeze the balloon and redirect yet more campaign funding underground. And there are even principled objections to it. Meltzer covers it all in much more informative detail. Give her story a read, and here’s the link again.

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.