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Fighting the PAC mentality

Regional view



Summertime in an election year in Colorado always has a certain excitement. Candidates marching in parades, petitioners gathering signatures at festivals ... some years we even get regular visits from the presidential candidates. Coloradans experience democracy in action well before Election Day.

This summer, Colorado has a sneak preview of the new face of political campaigns. As a key presidential swing state, we are already being bombarded with nonstop political ads. In mid-July, four months before the presidential election, three of the top four media markets in the country for political spending were in Colorado. And as the election approaches, the amount of ads in our state will only increase.

The problem of money in politics is not a new one, but with recent court rulings, it's gotten a whole lot worse. The 5-4 Citizens United v. FEC ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court extended logic from previous court cases that argued that corporations deserve the same constitutional rights as real people.

Further, the court ruled as a matter of law that spending on political campaigns cannot possibly corrupt our electoral system so long as the spending is technically done independently of candidates. This logic is what created the so-called super PACs, which have come to dominate presidential and congressional campaigns.

According to the new report "Million-Dollar Megaphones" by the CoPIRG Foundation and Demos, two nonpartisan groups, of the $230 million raised by super PACs from individuals in the first two quarters of the 2012 election cycle, more than half (57.1 percent) came from just 47 people giving at least $1 million. Fewer than 1,100 donors giving $10,000 or more were responsible for 94 percent of this fundraising.

Spending huge amounts of money to buy election results isn't free speech, it's bought speech. We need to ban super PACs and establish limits on campaign spending and contributions by billionaires who want to drown out the voices of ordinary voters.

We can correct the Supreme Court's misreading of our Constitution by passing an amendment that authorizes limits on campaign contributions and spending and ensures that all citizens, regardless of wealth, have an opportunity to speak. Initiative 82 would call on Colorado's congressional representatives to take action now. We need to send a message that our democracy is at risk and that fixing it must be a priority.

Colorado has a strong history of working to reduce the influence of money in politics. Ten years ago, Colorado voters passed comprehensive campaign finance reform that set contribution limits, banned corporate contributions, and required full disclosure of campaign spending. Now, our strong laws are under attack, and it is up to us, you and me, to restore the authority of we the people to govern ourselves.

We are not alone in this effort. Initiative 82 comes on the heels of a similar ballot measure in Montana, which has drawn support from the state's Democratic governor and Republican lieutenant governor in the wake of the Supreme Court striking down a law that had banned corporate contributions in Montana elections for the last 100 years. The practice of voter instructions to elected officials was widely used during the founding period of the United States and used successfully to pass the 17th Amendment for direct election of U.S. senators.

Initiative 82 is an opportunity for Coloradans to call upon our congressional delegation to support a federal constitutional amendment. The amendment will allow us to establish limits on out-of-control political spending to create a level playing field so all voices can be heard, not just those of people who can write the biggest checks.

Just over a month ago, our coalition started the petition drive to put this question before voters. Our allies at Colorado Fair Share launched an unprecedented organizing effort to go out and talk to voters about this issue and the importance of standing up to big money. The response was overwhelming. Coloradans agree that our political process is broken. If money is speech, speech is no longer free.

This fall, Coloradans have the opportunity to take the first step in the movement to reclaim our democracy. Colorado has been a leader in this fight before, and with Initiative 82, we have the opportunity to do it again.

Elena Nunez is the executive director of Colorado Common Cause, a nonpartisan organization working for open, honest and accountable government, and a veteran of campaign-finance reform efforts in Colorado.

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