Money in politics

Initiative process shows lack of accountability in political spending

Keywords: Politics,

Colorado voters will likely be asked to decide on four ballot measures this November. That is less than some years, and thus less dangerous. But the fact that two of them got on the ballot by way of spending by unnamed people operating through out-of-state groups should nonetheless give Coloradans pause.

Voting is supposed to be the mechanism by which a free people govern themselves. But between this state’s out-of-control initiative process and the courts, at least that portion of Colorado’s ballot has been transformed into little more than a battleground for special interests from around the country.

One of the four measures was referred to the voters — that is, put on the ballot — by the state Legislature. It would reform the state’s personnel system, and should generate little interest among ideologues and outside interest groups.

The others are citizen initiatives and have yet to be formally approved. They do, however, appear to have sufficient signatures.

One would amend the state Constitution to declare that embryos are “persons” under the law from the moment of fertilization — effectively banning abortion, common forms of birth control and fertility treatments. Although this idea has been rejected by Colorado voters twice before — and by wide margins — it at least seems driven by in-state groups.

It is the two other measures on the November ballot that show the troubling trend of anonymous, out-of-state players controlling Coloradans’ choices.

Initiative 82 would instruct the state’s congressional delegation to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to allow both Congress and the states to limit and regulate campaign financing. Such an amendment would be needed to overturn the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United decision that effectively allowed unlimited spending by individual donors and corporations. It sounds like a worthy cause, and the petitions supporting it picked up more than twice as many signatures as were needed to put it on the ballot — in one month.

In part, though, that was because a nonprofit group called Fair Share Alliance kicked in $360,000. A court ruled years ago that Colorado cannot ban the practice of paying people to gather signatures and with that kind of money to spend almost anything can end up on the ballot.

Who is behind Fair Share Alliance or from whom the group gets its money are unknown — and are likely never to be disclosed. Its headquarters is in Denver, its website lists a Washington, D.C., address and its books are kept by an entity based in Boston. That the ballot measure itself sounds innocent enough does not change the fact that the ability to reach Colorado’s ballot in that way is dangerous in the extreme.

Demanding that our congressional delegation introduce a constitutional amendment to curtail this kind of spending seems ineffective — and, given its shadowy funding, suspicious. But the impetus to do something is understandable. No one wants their state controlled by anonymous outsiders.