Colorado campaign finance plan draws little attention

Despite the results of last year's Amendment 65, campaign finance activists say they're still waiting for most of Colorado's congressional delegation to propose changing the federal constitution to limit campaign spending

BY KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press

DENVER | Imagine a political change favored by an overwhelming majority of voters but mostly ignored by politicians.

That’s what campaign finance activists in Colorado and Montana are facing these days. They’re scratching their heads at why politicians aren’t talking more about campaign finance just two months after voters in both states, by wide margins, approved a ballot measure calling for federal changes to limit campaign spending.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, front, makes a point during his annual State of The State speech before a joint session of the Colorado Legislature in the State Capitol in Denver on Thursay, Jan. 10, 2013. Looking on are Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, back left, and Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, front, makes a point during his annual State of The State speech before a joint session of the Colorado Legislature in the State Capitol in Denver on Thursay, Jan. 10, 2013. Looking on are Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, back left, and Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Activists gathered in the Colorado Capitol basement Friday to remind politicians of the vote, in which Coloradans directed the congressional delegation to seek an amendment to the U.S. Constitution limiting campaign spending.

They brought signs for each member of Colorado’s House delegation reminding them of the county-by-county results of last year’s vote. Many topped 80 percent support.

A similar proposal passed in Montana last year with nearly 75 percent of the statewide vote.

Despite the results of last year’s Amendment 65, campaign finance activists say they’re still waiting for most of Colorado’s congressional delegation to propose changing the federal constitution to limit campaign spending.

“The message we sent couldn’t be clearer. Coloradans want to see action,” said Danny Katz of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group, one of the groups most responsible for getting Colorado’s ballot question to voters.

The measure directed the state’s nine-member congressional delegation to “propose and support” an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment would overturn the 3-year-old Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United, which declared that corporations enjoy the same First Amendment rights to free speech as individual citizens and can therefore spend as much as they want to try to influence elections.

So far, most of Colorado’s congressional delegation has expressed support for the idea but not proposed any amendments, campaign finance activists said Friday.

The story was similar in Montana.

C.B. Pearson, spokesman for the group that backed the Montana initiative, said he sent letters to the state’s three congressional delegates a month after the election asking each of them to implement the initiative and sponsor that amendment.

He received responses, but not commitments, from the staff of Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, and no reply from Republican Rep. Steve Daines.

“It’s early in the process. We’ll continue our conversations,” Pearson said. “Certainly, we’re not disgruntled with any of them, but we haven’t locked in their leadership, yet.”

Katz said Colorado’s campaign finance amendment has attracted much less attention than another constitutional amendment passed last year — one to legalize recreational marijuana. Katz and a handful of other campaign activists gathered in a mostly empty hearing room Friday. Few reporters attended, and no state politicians stopped by. A public rally was planned for the Capitol steps Saturday, with a public march to the Federal Reserve office in Denver.

Elena Nunez of Colorado Common Cause said activists will have to keep up pressure or else Amendment 65 could be forgotten by officials.

“It’s our job to make it a campaign issue,” Nunez said.

Katz predicted a revival in politicians’ interest when voters again see hated campaign ads on TV — especially in Colorado. His group calculated that a third of congressional campaign spending in Colorado last year came from what activists consider “dark money,” or money for which donors are anonymous.

“We don’t know who was behind it or what their interests are,” Katz said.

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Associated Press writer Matt Volz in Helena, Mont., contributed to this report.

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