Denver Voters to Decide on Campaign Finance Reform in 2018

Grassroots supporters of campaign finance reform secured a major victory over big special interest money in politics Thursday when the Denver Election Division determined that The Democracy for the People Initiative had gathered enough valid signatures of Denver voters to put the initiative on the November 6, 2018 ballot.

The initiative, which seeks to counter the corrupting influence of special interest money in politics, received enthusiastic support from every district and demographic throughout Denver, with over 7,000 people signing the petition to get the initiative on the ballot. Support of the non-partisan issue came from Denver voters representing all the major and minor political parties, and the two biggest blocks of signers by age were 25-34-year-olds and 35-49-year-olds, respectively.

“It’s inspiring to see the enthusiasm for campaign finance reform from thousands of voters throughout Denver,” said Owen Perkins, President of the Board of CleanSlateNow Action, an advocacy group supporting the measure. “This is a chance to reclaim our democracy from big-monied special interests, and Denver voters have embraced the opportunity to heighten transparency and level the playing field in local elections.”

Among the highlights of the initiative, it will accomplish the following:

  • Require full disclosure on outside spending groups and Super PACS who have previously been able to funnel “dark money” into Denver campaigns;
  • Ban corporations from contributing directly to Denver municipal campaigns, as they are banned in Colorado state elections and in Congressional elections;
  • Lower Denver’s high campaign contribution limits to be in keeping with Colorado’s more reasonable statewide contribution limits;
  • Initiate publicly funded elections by providing matching funds for small-dollar donations of $50 and under to candidates who voluntarily reject special interest money, empowering voters across the socioeconomic spectrum.

The reforms are extremely popular in Denver, where polling of sample ballot language revealed an overwhelming majority of voters in support of each of the individual reforms and the proposed ordinance as a whole. Once passed, Denver would join cities like Seattle, New York, Boulder, and Los Angeles as well as counties and states like Connecticut, Rhode Island, Montgomery County (Maryland), Arizona, and Maine as entities with a public financing component to their elections.

“The most recent Denver municipal elections highlighted the problem of anonymous outside spending,” Perkins said. “From 2012-2017, almost $20 million was spent on elections in Denver, but only 18% of that money came from people actually living in Denver. In contrast, a city like New York with its small donor matching program has 71% of the money spent on New York elections coming from residents — four times as much as Denver.”

Publicly funded elections in states, counties, and municipalities across the country have shown consistently positive results. Providing matching funds to small-dollar donations leads to enormously higher engagement numbers from lower-income communities, with up to 23 times more participation in communities with public funding. Publicly funded elections lead to a greater diversity of candidates, with more young people running for office, more women running for office, and more leaders elected who truly represent their communities and pass legislation that reflects the prioritization of the public interest over the special interests.

“The number of Americans who feel left out of what they perceive as a rigged election system seems to grow every day,” Perkins said. “This proposed ordinance would restore the power to the people of Denver, amplifying their voices and motivating candidates for office and elected officials to spend time with everyday voters, focusing on constituent concerns rather than continuing their obsessive pursuit of big money from millionaires and corporations.”

The Democracy for the People Initiative would establish a Fair Elections Fund that is capped at $8 million in matching contributions each cycle, or $2 million a year. The initial funds will come from the General Fund, and if the maximum spending is achieved, it would represent 0.02% of Denver’s annual budget.

CleanSlateNow Action is a national grassroots advocacy organization based in Colorado and founded by the late Senator Ken Gordon, a passionate champion for campaign finance reform and for getting the corrupting influence of special interest money out

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