Amendment 65 calls for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to set mandatory campaign spending limits.
“When you have these elite, wealthy donors who are writing huge checks, it distorts the conversation around our elections and really drowns out the voices of the rest of us who aren’t writing those huge checks,” says Elena Nunez of Colorado Common Cause, one of the amendment’s endorsers. “Amendment 65 is about leveling the playing field so everyone can be heard regardless of their ability to write huge campaign checks.”
Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, among other court decisions, has created an opportunity for political action committees (PACs) and super PACs, independent groups that can raise and spend unlimited sums of money without full disclosure of donor information. According to a report from the CoPIRG (Colorado Public Interest Research Group) Foundation, 57.1 percent of the $230 million raised by super PACs from individuals came from 47 people who gave $1 million or more, and 94 percent came from 1,000 people who gave $10,000 or more.
“Having the voters of Colorado vote on this on the statewide ballot is a powerful way to kick-start the movement for a constitutional amendment at the federal level,” Nunez says. “The idea is if we can pass ballot measures in many states we can start to build the momentum necessary for a federal constitutional amendment.”
If passed, Colorado will join eight other states — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont — calling on Congress to make such an amendment. Montana has a similar measure on the ballot this fall.
No committee has been formed to oppose the amendment, which has been endorsed by CoPIRG, Colorado Center on Law and Policy, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Colorado Fair Share, Colorado Progressive Coalition, New Era Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. But one think tank, the Independence Institute, has been speaking out against the initiative.
“This is asking the government to control what people can say during elections about the government, which is extremely dangerous,” says David Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute and an adjunct professor in constitutional law, with a focus on the First Amendment, at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
The amendment asks for legislators to create a constitutional amendment without pegging specific amounts, a move Kopel calls “reckless.”
“Amendment 65 is a blank check for censorship of political speech,” Kopel says.
He argues that this amendment will empower people who spend independently on behalf of someone’s campaign (though the current system has allowed for the rise of figures like Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who had given a combined $36.3 million to super PACs for the 2012 elections by mid-September — more than was spent in the entire 2008 election cycle, according to reports from the Center for Responsive Politics).
“The plain fact in our democracy is that every person is supposed to have an equal voice,” says Peter Schurman, campaign director for Free Speech For People. “The bogus argument that money equals speech means that those who have more money are, in Orwellian terms, more equal than the rest of us. The result is that what we have in America today to choose our public officials is not elections so much as auctions, and that’s wrong. We need to put democracy back in the hands of we the people, and the way to do that is with constitutional amendments overturning those misguided Supreme Court cases.”
We each have only one ballot to cast. A small group of people shouldn’t be allowed to use our pocketbooks well before election day to direct how other people vote through aggressive political campaign advertisements on television and in our mailboxes. Vote yes on 65.