Election season is upon us, and while national media is focused on the presidential primaries, Boulder Weekly is in full swing interviewing local candidates and reviewing proposed local initiatives. As part of the process, we examine campaign contributions, particularly those made to school board candidates. The reason for emphasis on school board races stems from the requirement that school board candidates run unaffiliated and the reality that in recent election cycles, special interest groups have made attempts or even succeeded in taking over school boards throughout the state. Take the highly publicized and controversial takeovers of Douglas and Jefferson County school boards by candidates linked to school choice (voucher) advocates said to be funded by hyper-wealthy Republicans working in concert with the Koch brothers and groups such as the Independence Institute, for example. The Loveland School Board was also a victim of a similar takeover in 2013 meaning that Boulder County is surrounded by such political shenanigans.
And it’s not just conservative assaults on education. Any special interest group, progressive or conservative, poses a threat to school board independence if voters are unaware of which candidates are beholden to whom. Hence the importance of being given ample time to examine such campaign contributions.
But on that front, there is a problem. Even though the contributions reports for other local races are due long before the first votes are cast, the first campaign contributions filing for school board candidates through the Colorado Secretary of State’s office isn’t due until Oct. 13 even though the first mail-in ballots go out between Oct. 12-16, leaving a very small window for examination and reporting in the very races most likely to be impacted by special interests. Although the Secretary of State’s office collects the information, two different legislative statutes dictate the calendar.
“Part of the issue is that the law has evolved. We weren’t an all mail ballot state when the filing calendar last was amended,” says lawyer Martha Tierney who helped write Amendment 27, outlining campaign finance regulations. The filing calendar is outlined in C.R.S. 145-108, not in Amendment 27 and was last updated in 2012, previous to the 2013 measure that requires all registered voters to receive a mail-in ballot.
“For those voters who are wanting that information they’ll have time to get it before they have to vote, because they’ll have a few weeks before it’s got to be returned,” Tierney says, “Now I understand that some people like to vote right away. If you’re wanting that information, before you make your decision there will be time. Certainly the goal of the disclosure law is to give people that information.” While it’s true that voters could wait for such information, most do not seek it on their own and they have no way to know if the press will be providing the information at some point. In a close election, ballots returned in the first week could easily be the difference in who makes it onto a school board.
Rep. Mike Foote (D-Lafayette), who sits on the House State Affairs Committee, which considers elections and campaign finance issues, says the issue has never come up in his three years of service. “It would be nice to have that information sooner, absolutely,” Foot says. “Is it possible logistically? That’s the question.
“The issue is logistics, but I think the dates could be moved back. I don’t think there is anything prohibiting a change in the schedule from the legislature,” says Foot. “I’m supportive of the concept, if somebody brings it forth I would certainly give it a lot of consideration.”
An earlier online version of this story incorrectly referred to Rep. Mike Foote as Sen. Mike Foot and he sits on the House State Affairs Committee, not the Senate State Affairs Committee. We apologize for any confusion.