Amendment 65: campaign finance limits
Ryan Summerlin November 2, 2012
With the Colorado radio and TV markets saturated with fierce political advertising, a constitutional amendment taking aim at campaign financing might strike a chord with voters.
But opponents of the measure say the proposed Amendment 65 is an overly vague shot at free expression that may end up benefitting the wealthy political patrons voters might intend it to limit.
“It’s a blank check for unlimited censorship,” said David Kopel, research director for the Independence Institute and a University of Denver professor on First Amendment law. “Instead of proposing specific reforms, it orders all Colorado elected officials to support any restriction on campaign-related speech. It’s always very dangerous to give the government the power to control speech.”
The amendment, one of three statewide ballot questions pitching changes to the Colorado Constitution this year, directs the Colorado Congressional delegation to propose and back an amendment to the Colorado Constitution that would give Congress and the states leeway to limit campaign contributions and spending.
“Here in Colorado, we’ve seen the impact of big money on our political process and how it can distort the dialogue,” said Elena Nunez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, one of the organizations backing the amendment. “In this post-Citizens United election, the floodgates have been opened to unlimited expenditures from powerful interests.”
Amendment 65 follows in the spirit of Amendment 27, a measure approved by Coloradans in a landslide vote in 2002 banning direct corporate or union contributions to campaigns for state-elected offices.
Backers say Amendment 65 gives elected officials clear instructions to limit the reach and influence of wealthy individuals in organizations over campaigns and ultimately public policy through donations.
Though the language of the measure doesn’t note any specific limits, backers say lawmakers will listen to the message voters are sending.
“It creates a clear signal that voters want this to be addressed,” Nunez said. “For members of the delegation who don’t take this up, it creates a powerful mechanism for accountability.”
But a ballot measure, even a constitutional amendment, cannot require elected officials to sponsor, support or vote for any specific law or policy. As a result, detractors say the amendment will have no practical impact and uses Colorado law to make a political statement.
The amendment is backed primarily by nonprofit Colorado Common Cause, and political action groups Fair Share Committee to Get Big Money Out of Politics and Coloradans Get Big Money Out of Politics. The two committees have a combined budget of more than $500,000, according to Colorado Secretary of State reports.
There is no formal opposition to the amendment, but politically active Coloradans have spoken out against it.
Colorado blogger and author Ari Armstrong came out against the measure stating “Amendment 65 would impose censorship, giving government power to forcibly restrict who may speak, how they may speak or what they may speak,” and charging the measure with attempting to repeal a portion of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.