By Debi Brazzale, COLORADO NEWS AGENCY
In a bid they say would loosen the grip of special interests on the State Capitol, some Democratic lawmakers are proposing to let qualifying legislative candidates tap public funds to help pay for their races.
The proposal by Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, would be paid for voluntarily by those who choose to check a box on their state income-tax returns, and it would help finance state House and Senate candidates who also demonstrate they can raise individual contributions of their own through their campaigns.
“Most people are concerned about the role of money in elections and we want to start the conversation,” said Sen. Morgan Carroll, an Aurora Democrat who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate. “If we don’t like the role of money and special interests, then let’s do something about it.”
Its backers say House Bill 1156 takes a shot at leveling the playing field for candidates who voluntarily decide to forego special-interest, corporate and union money in favor of individual, grassroots contributions, which then would be matched 2-1 with public money under the proposal.
“Public financing is the only way to keep our republic intact,” says newcomer Rep. Max Tyler, D-Golden, who was appointed to his seat after former representative Gwyn Green resigned and has not yet had to campaign for his seat.
Tyler, who has signed onto the bill as a co-sponsor, thinks that the bill is even more important in light of this week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision relaxing restraints on corporate and union campaign giving in federal elections. The decision says that corporations will be treated the same as individuals in their campaign donations.
“Public financing might be a way to make sure that people are in charge of our government instead of big corporations with lots of money,” said Tyler.
Court, the House sponsor, now wonders what if any effect the new court decision might have on her bill since the decision has sparked a lawsuit over voluntary contributions.
“If we pass it and find that it is just a moot point, then it doesn’t make sense to do it,” said Court, who will be talking to the drafter of the bill to determine how to proceed from here.
Proposals to open the door to publicly financed campaigns long have divided the two major parties. Capitol Republicans say that, rather than clean up campaigns, publicly financed candidacies actually would distort elections. Campaign contributions reflect real-world support for a candidate rather; subsidies, they say, mask it–or the lack of it.
“Candidates should garner their own support and not depend on a public lottery system,” said one GOP lawmaker, Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R—Broomfield. He also said public funding forces taxpayers to fund candidates they don’t believe in.
“People shouldn’t have to pay for political contests that support messages that they don’t agree with,” Mitchell said.