5:58am

Fri September 28, 2012
Politics

Amendment 65: A Non-Binding Retort To Citizens United

Colorado Amendment 65 is a non-binding referendum that encourages the state’s U.S. representatives and senators to support a U.S. constitutional amendment limiting campaign contributions and spending.

Editor's Note: This story is the 2nd in a two-part look at Amendment 65 (the 1st story includes a look at S as well). You can also review our series on Amendment 64.

Some 182,113 state residents signed the petitions that take direct aim at the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial “Citizens United” decision, which essentially held that the First Amendment allows corporations and unions to spend freely on elections.

Of that number, according to the Secretary of State’s website, 87,170 of the signatures were accepted, and 94,943 were rejected. Still, the measure made it over the required threshold of 86,101 with room to spare and will appear on the November ballot.

The effort is being spearheaded by Colorado Common Cause and two state-registered issue committees, Coloradans Get Big Money Out of Politics and by the Fair Share Committee to Get Big Money Out of Politics.

While no group formally registered to oppose the initiative, at least one member of the state’s congressional delegation, U. S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, has voiced his opposition. Catherine Mortensen, Lamborn’s spokeswoman, said the congressman believes Citizens United was “decided correctly” and that corporations should have the right to speak out politically.

Elena Nunez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, said the proposal fits into a long Colorado tradition of working to reduce big money in politics.

“(This) is the first step in, really, a long-term movement,” she said of the call for an eventual constitutional amendment. “It’s an opportunity to let our congressional delegation know this is something we feel is important.”

Both Common Cause and the Fair Share Alliance state the goal of overturning the Citizens United decision is to force financial transparency throughout politics, but neither has released detailed lists of its own contributors.

The national Common Cause organization contributed $100,000 to the effort, about 77 percent of the total raised by Coloradans Get Big Money Out of Politics.

Daniel Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Florida, has written extensively about ballot initiatives in the United States, including those in Colorado, and said the lack of financial disclosure by Common Cause is not a new issue.

“To avoid charges of hypocrisy, Common Cause should voluntarily reveal who their donors are to their national organization, as they are concealing the identities of those contributing to their ballot committee, just as they claim is occurring in candidate campaigns due to the Citizens United decision,” he wrote in an email.

Said Nunez, “We’re a membership organization; members pay dues for general operating costs. Anything going forward is coming directly from those.”

Nunez said that Common Cause believes all groups that influence political campaigns should provide full financial disclosure, including nonprofits such as themselves.

“We support increased disclosures for any entity that is working to influence our elections,” she said.

The Fair Share Alliance is the main benefactor of the Fair Share Committee, which gave more than $398,000 in in-kind contributions _ mostly in the form of funding signature gathering and canvassing efforts undertaken throughout the months of June and July.

Brad Martin, executive director of the national Fair Share Alliance organization, said that Fair Share Alliance has “been completely transparent throughout this process. Of course, we also respect the privacy of our individual donors.” 

There are two ways an amendment to the U.S. Constitution may be proposed: By a two-thirds majority vote by both houses of Congress, subject to ratification by three-fourths of the states, or by constitutional conventions by two thirds of the state legislatures _ a process that has never been used.

“It’s a process,” Martin said. “We know we’re David, and we know who Goliath is.”

So far, seven states have passed similar initiatives: Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont and Massachusetts.

Earlier this summer, the high court declined to revisit Citizens United while reversing a Montana Supreme Court decision that upheld a state law limiting independent political spending by corporations.

Critics of the 2010 decision say it has led to vast amounts of money pouring into races at all levels, largely from wealthy individual for use by obscure “superPACs” and other independent groups.

You can read the full text of the measure here [.pdf].