Action at the State Level on National Position

POSITION: (Adopted 1974, rev. 1982)

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that the methods of financing political campaigns should ensure the public’s right to know, combat corruption and undue influence, enable candidates to compete more equitably for public office, and allow maximum citizen participation in the political process.

This position is applicable to all federal campaigns for public office – presidential and congressional, primariesas well as general elections. It also may be applied to state and local campaigns.

HISTORY

Beginning in 1992, LWVCO worked with Colorado Common Cause (CCC) and other groups to get campaign finance legislation passed in the General Assembly and, failing that, to get a citizen-sponsored initiative to reform campaign financing on the ballot and passed. The legislative route proved to be a failure. For years LWVCO lobbied the legislature for strong campaign reform, but all of the bills that we supported died in committee. Finally in 1996 the legislature passed and the governor signed a weak bill with very high contribution limits, no spending limits and serious loopholes.

Meanwhile, LWVCO worked successfully with CCC and CoPIRG (Colorado Public Interest Research Group) and a coalition of 18 other organizations to place a reform measure on the November 1994 ballot. This measure, Amendment 15, called for $100-$500 contribution limits, more disclosure and enforcement by a separate commission. It failed narrowly at the polls because of an extremely well financed opposition campaign. Early in 1995, the LWVCO Education Fund published a study of Colorado campaign finances drawing on statistics compiled over the past twenty years by CCC, LWVCO and CoPIRG.

In 1996 LWVCO, CCC and CoPIRG launched another petition drive and succeeded in getting a measure on the November ballot – again Amendment 15 – with $100 and $500 contribution limits, voluntary spending limits and more disclosure. The measure passed overwhelmingly with 66% of the vote. Three law suits were promptly filed in US District Court against the Colorado Secretary of State claiming the amendment (now called the Fair Campaign Practices Act) violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments regarding free speech and freedom of association. Plaintiffs included Right-to-Life groups, the Colorado Education Association and the Republican Party. The consolidated suits were heard in US District Court March-June 1998. In April 1998 Judge Daniel Sparr ruled that most of the voluntary spending limits and reporting requirements for independent expenditures were constitutional.

The November 1998 election proceeded under Amendment 15 rules. All candidates accepted the voluntary spending limits. A distinct lowering of expenditures in contested races occurred.

In August 1999 Judge Sparr ruled the $500 and $100 limits for statewide and legislative races were unconstitutionally low. He also ruled the $250 contribution limits to political committees unconstitutional. However, Judge Sparr ruled that the state did have a right to regulate campaign contributions to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption, and left in place limits on political parties’ contributions to candidates, limits on individual contributions to parties, and aggregate limits on Political Action Committee (PAC) contributions to candidates.

This decision pleased neither side, and both appealed. Meanwhile, in the 2000 Colorado legislative session, a bill passed which gutted Amendment 15, providing very high contribution limits, allowing corporate and union contributions to candidates, abolishing voluntary spending limits, and generally leaving large loopholes for big money to dominate the process. The 2000 general election, held under these rules, saw a great increase in very expensive campaigns. In December 2000 the US Tenth Circuit declared most of Amendment 15 moot and reversed the lower court’s ruling on disclosure of independent expenditures.

In 2002 the League joined with longtime allies CCC and CoPIRG to launch a third initiative for campaign reform, this time as a constitutional amendment. This initiative had $200 and $500 contribution limits to candidates, a variety of limits on political parties and PACs, voluntary spending limits with incentives, special incentives for small donor committees receiving $50 or less from contributors, and financial disclosure from so-called “educational issue” committees, which claim not to support or oppose candidates by avoiding the magic words “vote for” or “vote against” as cited in the 1976 US Supreme Court decision, Buckley v. Valeo. As Amendment 27, it passed overwhelmingly, again with 66% of the vote.

In July 2003 James Bopp, counsel for the Colorado Right-to-Life Committee (CRLC) and Colorado Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG), filed suit in US District Court against the Colorado Secretary of State arguing that Amendment 27 regulated issue advocacy, banned corporations from making electioneering communications, did not exclude organizations whose major purpose is other than express advocacy, and prevented CRG from business activity or receiving corporate contributions, all of which, it claimed, were unconstitutional.

League and CCC were amicus curiae (friends of the court) in this case, submitting written briefs in support of Amendment 27 but not participating in the court proceedings. The LWVCO Education Fund received a grant of $25,000 from the Deer Creek Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri, for expenses in the case. The District Court decided partly in favor of the plaintiffs; the decision was appealed by the Secretary of State to the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. On August 21, 2007 the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court decision; it ruled that CRLC’s major purpose was not to support or oppose political candidates, but to promote respect for human life.

The General Assembly passed and the Governor signed the Clean Campaign Act in 2007, which requires so-called “527 committees” to report contributions and spending on the same schedule as candidates’ committees. These committees had claimed, as had educational issues committees, to be spending on issue advocacy only.

In 2008 the General Assembly passed and the Governor signed a measure supported by LWVCO closing a loophole in the enforcement statutes implementing Amendment 27. Reports of campaign finance violations made by citizens and enforcement of any relevant sanctions are brought under the implementing statutes.

On January 21, 2010, a bitterly divided US Supreme Court, in Citizens United v. FEC, ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections, on the grounds that the government has no business regulating political speech.

In 2012 LWVCO supported a bill to create a public campaign fund to be administered and enforced by a Colorado Citizen Funded Campaigns Commission. Candidates for Colorado’s General Assembly would have had the option to participate in the publicly funded system, but the bill didn’t pass.