Two weeks ago we sent a questionnaire to all of the candidates for Denver's city offices, including Mayor, Auditor, and City Council. We wanted to accomplish three goals:
1) Learn about how the candidates for local office view the issue of special interest corruption of politics;
2) Help voters in Denver learn about the views of candidates on this issue; and
3) Find and highlight any candidates who say they will lead on this issue, and are doing so in how they run their campaigns.
Click here to see the original questionnaire.
Now that our deadline for responding has passed (though we will still accept responses), we both want to thank the candidates who took the time to respond and want to share the results from the dozen candidates who sent their questionnaires with their responses.
Click here to see the candidates' actual responses.
Not everyone will have a chance to review all of these responses, so we put together summary grids of these questions, giving you and other voters an opportunity to easily compare all of the candidates who responded. We also provide a summary rating, giving each candidate a star for each reform they indicate they support and each group they already do not accept contributions from for their campaigns.
If you have the opportunity, please be sure to thank the candidates who responded to our questionnaire.
Click here to see our summary. Please be sure to share our summary with any friends or family you may have who are eligible to vote in Denver.
Based on these ratings, and our previous analysis of candidate fundraising, two candidates stand out to us as potential leaders on this issue who are also running very competitive campaigns.
Paul Kashman, candidate in District 6, earns nine stars for his support for reform (5 out of 5 possible stars) and decision to limit who funds his campaign (4 out of 5 stars), including returning a check from a local lobbying firm. You can see Paul's entire questionnaire here.
Anne McGihon, candidate in District 7, earns 8 stars for her support for reform (4 out of 5 stars) and limiting contributions to her campaign (4 out of 5 stars). You can see Anne's detailed questionnaire responses here.
As always, we welcome your feedback. In particular, please let us know if there are any additional questions you have about the candidate to which we can provide an answer, whether through researching campaign reports or through our interactions with candidates.
Overall Summary Table of Candidate Responses
Star ratings indicate the number of responses by each candidate in support of reform and number of ways the candidates self-limit contributions to their own campaigns.
|Candidate||Office||Responses in Support of Reform||Self-limiting Contributions to their Campaign||Total Stars|
|Paul Kahmann||Council District 6||5||4||9|
|Michael Levy||Council District 7||5||4||9|
|Anne McGihon||Council District 7||4||4||8|
|Luchia Brown||Council District 7||5||3||8|
|Ian Harwick||Council District 7||3||4||7|
|Kayvan Khalatbari||Council At-Large||3||4||7|
|Chris Weder||Council District 10||3||3||6|
|Travis Leiker||Council District 10||4||2||6|
|Liz Adams||Council District 6||4||1||5|
|Tea Schook||Council District 11||2||0||2|
Our goal in reviewing these campaign reports is to empower you in your discussions with your friends, family, and fellow community leaders.
So far our analyses have provided a few data points for you to use in your conversations:
- In the House of Representatives, 47% of the campaign funds come from special interest PACs. In the Colorado House, it's 44%.
- In the U.S. Senate, it is only 25% - better, but still too much.
- At the local level, it is lower for some candidates, but not much lower for incumbents.
You need to be able to make the case to your fellow concerned voters that special interest group money has corrupted our politics and we can do something about it.
We already know what many people will say in response when you tell them these stats, as we've heard most of the arguments ourselves - from candidates, lobbyists, PAC directors, union leaders, business owners, and even our family, friends, and neighbors.
But here is the truth:
Candidates do not have to take the money,
it does corrupt our system,
and there is a lot we can do about it.
That last part is hard for many people to believe, so we wanted to focus this update on the many proposed solutions we have seen come from a variety of groups and individuals across the country. The proposed solutions come in the form of legislation, constitutional amendments, and immediate actions.
CleanSlateNow.org is committed to getting special interest money out of politics. We believe candidates best represent the public interest by choosing to only accept contributions from individuals. We encourage candidates to reject contributions from political action committees, special interest groups, and corporations.
The questions below are meant to provide information to voters about the kinds of campaign contributions you are taking in your pursuit of public office and to provide our board with information when considering if we will endorse a candidate in your race. Though we have traditionally publicized the names of candidates who do not take PAC and special interest group money, no single question is meant to serve as an absolute litmus test. We seek to inform, educate, and engage you, other candidates, elected officials, and the public about issues surrounding campaign finance reform, and we hope the information you provide will help voters make up their own minds about the candidates. Please complete and return the questionnaire by April 1, 2015.
Thank you for your participation, and good luck in your campaign!
Name Office Sought/District
E-mail address Phone number
- If elected, will you actively seek to enact meaningful campaign finance reform of the following forms?
- Support overturning Citizens United? Yes No
- Ban contributions in local elections from corporations, unions, and other organizations not allowed to donate to state legislative campaigns? Yes No
- Limit special interest group contributions? Yes No
- Incentivize small contributions ($150 or less) from individuals with matching funds? Yes No
- Enact public financing of municipal elections. Yes No
Are there other reforms you would propose?
- Will you accept or have you accepted contributions from special interest groups or organizations through any means, including political committees, political action committees, or small donor committees? (This does not include political party contributions.)
- Will you accept or have you accepted contributions from Leadership PACs (a committee an elected official uses to donate to other candidates and elected officials, separate from their candidate committee)?
- Will you establish or have you established your own Leadership PAC?
Yes No Not Sure
- Will you accept or have you already accepted contributions from large corporations (i.e., offices in more than one locality, or based out of your state with a regional or national focus)?
- Will you accept or have you already accepted contributions from small corporations (presence in only one locality, i.e., “Mom-and-Pop Shop”)?
- Will you accept or have you already accepted money from lobbyists?
- Will you accept or have you already accepted money from unions?
- Please share any thoughts you have about campaign finance reform and the role of special interest money vs. contributions from individuals in political campaigns.
- Please feel free to share any thoughts on how this information on campaign finance reform should be shared.
Completed questionnaires can be scanned and emailed to Info@CleanSlateNow.org or
mailed to CleanSlateNow.org at 8998 E 25th Dr., Denver, CO 80238.
A frequent request we have received in the past at Clean Slate Now is for an analysis of campaign contributions in local elections, including for city, school board, and county offices. Our first such analysis will be on the current campaigns for Denver City Council.
In our past reports, we have analyzed campaign contributions based on how much of the money raised by current office holders were from special interest group political action committees (PACs). The campaign finance rules in Denver, however, are quite different than the rules for Congress or State Legislature. In most states and at the federal level, contributions are only permitted from people, PACs, party committees, or other candidates' committees.
In Denver, corporations, unions, and other organizations are allowed to donate directly to municipal candidates. The money does not need to originate from an actual humane being.
Fortunately, only people are allowed to be candidates.
There are 42 candidates who made it on the ballot for one of the 11 City Council District seats, or the two At-Large Council seats. Only 37 of those candidates have raised any money at this point, and seven have raised all of their money from people only, while 30 of them have already accepted money from an organization.
For our analysis, we consider all contributions from businesses, unions, PACs, and other organizations the same - as forms of special interest groups.
Here are the key findings we have seen in the reports filed so far:
Candidates for Denver City Council get a smaller percentage of their money from special interest groups than do state legislators and members of Congress. On average, candidates for Denver City Council have raised just 13% of their campaign funds from corporations, PACs, and other organizations. That is far below the 47% for the average member of the House of Representatives. Even City Council incumbents have raised only 17% of their campaign funds from organizations, while 83% has come from actual people.
Denver's loose restrictions on donations have allowed some people to give double the maximum. Denver City Council candidates are not allowed to accept more than $1000 per donor if they are running in a district or $2000 if they are running for an at-large seat. However, several candidates have raised money from both a business and the owner of the business.
This form of double dipping is one of the key problems created by allowing organizations to donate, whether through a PAC or a business. It is not at all difficult for a donor to hide their identity by creating shell organizations with unclear names to make the contributions. Some of the companies that donated were simply named after an address.
One candidate even received $1000 donations each from two Limited Liability Companies that share the same address and have nearly identical names. Both were also formed in August of 2013. Under current law, they are separate legal entities and thus allowed to donate $1000 each, even though those contributions clearly violate the spirit of the law creating the contribution limits.
Some of the organizational money incumbents receive comes from organizations regulated by the City and County of Denver. Despite the clear conflict of interest, several incumbents have accepted major contributions from businesses that are regulated by or that do business with the City of Denver. For example, Comcast Financial Agency has donated to several incumbents, as has the developer Forest City (as FC Facilitator LLC).
We hope to continue monitoring these issues to determine the extent to which those contributions are shaping policymaking.
As with any of our research, we welcome your follow up comments and questions to help guide our future research efforts.