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 $1000 each, even though those contributions clearly violate the spirit of the law creating the contribution limits.
Some of the organizational money incumbents receive comes from organizations regulated by the City and County of Denver. Despite the clear conflict of interest, several incumbents have accepted major contributions from businesses that are regulated by or that do business with the City of Denver. For example, Comcast Financial Agency has donated to several incumbents, as has the developer Forest City (as FC Facilitator LLC).
We hope to continue monitoring these issues to determine the extent to which those contributions are shaping policymaking.
As with any of our research, we welcome your follow up comments and questions to help guide our future research efforts.
Note: These results have been updated to include all municipal races on the May, 2015 ballot, as well as information on how much of each candidate's money they provided themselves (due to several requests for this information). These results now also include all contributions dating back to January 1, 2012, including InKind (non-monetary) contributions.
|Candidate||Office||Total Raised||$ from Organizations||% from Organizations||% from Candidate|
|Debra JOHNSON||C& R||$8,591.82||$-||0%||23%|
|Joan POSTON||C& R||$1,000.00||$-||0%||100%|
|Jose SILVA||Council At-large||$1,595.00||$-||0%||0%|
|Jeffery WASHINGTON||Council At-large||$-||$-||0%||0%|
|Kayvan KHALATBARI||Council At-large||$14,400.00||$2,600.00||18%||56%|
|Deborah L. ORTEGA||Council At-large||$52,660.00||$14,500.00||28%||0%|
|Robin KNIECH||Council At-large||$95,397.14||$32,206.00||34%||0%|
|Rafael ESPINOZA||CD 1||$18,568.30||$-||0%||21%|
|Susan SHEPHERD||CD 1||$56,137.00||$14,017.00||25%||0%|
|Jeanne LABUDA||CD 2||$3,680.00||$-||0%||10%|
|Fran COLEMAN||CD 2||$9,301.00||$-||0%||0%|
|Danny LOPEZ||CD 2||$-||$-||0%||0%|
|Kevin FLYNN||CD 2||$27,558.00||$1,350.00||5%||0%|
|John E. KIDD Jr.||CD 2||$14,142.71||$1,150.00||8%||24%|
|Paul LOPEZ||CD 3||$9,615.00||$4,050.00||42%||0%|
|Carolina KLEIN||CD 4||$250.00||$-||0%||100%|
|Kendra Alexis Valis BLACK||CD 4||$132,246.88||$10,200.00||8%||2%|
|Halisi VINSON||CD 4||$68,468.87||$8,336.00||12%||1%|
|Mary Beth SUSMAN||CD 5||$30,438.66||$8,643.66||28%||0%|
|Paul KASHMANN||CD 6||$53,757.14||$4,498.73||8%||7%|
|Liz ADAMS||CD 6||$85,902.24||$18,877.67||22%||1%|
|Jacob Hunter VIANO||CD 7||$8,250.00||$250.00||3%||2%|
|Anne MCGIHON||CD 7||$34,918.77||$2,000.00||6%||0%|
|Ian HARWICK||CD 7||$15,455.15||$1,700.00||11%||0%|
|Aaron GRECO||CD 7||$33,049.16||$4,300.00||13%||3%|
|Jolon CLARK||CD 7||$46,685.00||$6,335.00||14%||3%|
|Mathews ALVAREZ||CD 7||$4,900.00||$1,000.00||20%||16%|
|Mickki LANGSTON||CD 7||$25,212.60||$5,236.60||21%||0%|
|Luchia Ann BROWN||CD 7||$10,430.00||$3,720.00||36%||1%|
|Michael LEVY||CD 7||$150.00||$150.00||100%||0%|
|Christopher HERNDON||CD 8||$75,412.00||$29,099.00||39%||0%|
|Ean TAFOYA||CD 9||$3,265.00||$-||0%||0%|
|Michael BORCHERDING||CD 9||$9,595.00||$150.00||2%||52%|
|Albus BROOKS||CD 9||$163,830.92||$58,707.55||36%||1%|
|Travis LEIKER||CD 10||$21,515.50||$-||0%||3%|
|Chris Cornell WEDOR||CD 10||$32,709.70||$379.70||1%||67%|
|Chris CHIARI||CD 10||$59,650.00||$1,300.00||2%||84%|
|Wayne NEW||CD 10||$99,611.60||$3,140.00||3%||4%|
|Anna JONES||CD 10||$58,217.50||$7,147.00||12%||0%|
|Tim CAMARILLO||CD 11||$-||$-||0%||0%|
|Stacie GILMORE||CD 11||$32,873.11||$1,250.00||4%||19%|
|Sean BRADLEY||CD 11||$31,905.00||$2,550.00||8%||0%|
|Shelli BROWN||CD 11||$18,869.00||$2,600.00||14%||0%|
|Tea SCHOOK||CD 11||$23,842.52||$4,450.00||19%||1%|
After countless volunteer and staff hours, Clean Slate Now has finally been able to complete our initial analysis of special interest group contributions to the state legislators here in Colorado.
We want to make sure these results are easily comparable with our recent report on special interest contributions to Congress, so we focused on the most recent election cycle. For the Colorado House, we analyze contributions made in 2013 and 2014. For the Colorado Senate, we analyze contributions made in 2011 through 2014, as Colorado Senators have four-year terms.
Before we get to the results, we need to highlight that Colorado candidates have to follow different rules than Congressional candidates. The contribution limits are much lower. For an individual, the limit is $400 per election cycle instead as compared with $5200 for candidates for Congress.
The contribution limit for political committees (Colorado's name for political action committees (PACs)) is also $400, but Colorado law also allows special interest groups to form Small Donor Committees (SDCs), which can contribute as much as $2000 per candidate per election cycle, but can only accept contributions of $50 or less.
Below are key findings, and some lessons learned, from our review of PAC contribution to current members of the Colorado legislature.
Click here to see the results for each member of the Colorado legislature.
Similar Dependence on PACs as Members of Congress
When compared to members of the United States House of Representatives, Colorado State Representatives accepted a slightly lower percentage of their campaign funds from special interest group PACs - 44% for Colorado State Representatives as compared with 47% for U.S. Representatives.
The percentage of campaign funds coming from PACs for State Senators are much higher than for U.S. Senators. Colorado State Senators relied on PACs for 37% of their campaign funds, whereas U.S. Senators relied on PACs for only 25% of their funds.
Importance Differences Between Colorado Representatives and Colorado Senators
While Colorado State Senators relied on PACs for a greater percentage of their campaign funds than U.S. Senators, they are actually less dependent on PACs than their counterparts in the Colorado House.
Each of the past two years, Colorado's Representatives raised on average $12,056 from PACs. Colorado's state Senators raised $9,419 on average from PACs each of the past four years.
No-PAC Candidates in the Colorado Legislature
Just like in Congress, there are several members of the Colorado legislature who refuse all PAC money:
Representative Dan Pabon
Representative Lois Court
Senator Irene Aguilar
Senator Michael Johnston
Small Donor Committees are a key avenue for special interest groups to buy influence. If not for the larger contribution limits allowed to small donor committees, Colorado legislators likely would be far less reliant on special interest group PAC money. In the Colorado House, 58% of the PAC contributions came from SDCs. In the Colorado Senate, a similar 60% of PAC contributions came from SDCs.
If SDCs did not exist, Colorado legislators would depend far more on campaign contributions from their constituents and other individuals.
Key Lessons Learned for Clean Slate Now:
Reliance on PACs for campaign funds is not unique to Congress. We expected that Colorado state legislators would also rely on PAC money to fund their campaigns, but we did not necessarily know how important it would or would not be. Now we know that state legislators are not much different than Members of Congress when it comes to how much of their campaign funds come from PACs: much of the money, but not a majority, comes from special interest group PACs.
Asking candidates to say no to PAC money persuades some, and candidates for state legislature have won without PAC money. Representatives Lois Court and Dan Pabon were both elected after winning competitive campaigns. In both of their races, they refused special interest PAC money. They have also remained committed to staying PAC free even after being elected. While Senators Irene Aguilar and Michael Johnston first entered office as the result of vacancy committee appointments, both have also remained committed to turning down special interest group PAC money in their reelection campaign fundraising.
Some legislators need help sticking with a no-PAC commitment. Three other Colorado legislators were elected after committing to turn down PAC money, but have not maintained their status as no-PAC candidates. Just like most of us need help to stick to a healthy diet, some of our elected officials need help sticking to the commitments they make to voters.
- Candidates are willing to say no to PAC money, but need to know how to win without it. Several of the current members of the Colorado legislature won their first races without PAC money. Some remained PAC-free after taking office, while others gave into the pressure to take the easy money PACs offer. The record in Colorado, though, clearly shows that candidates can and do win without relying on PAC money. It is not the choice made by the majority of legislators, but it could be.
This is our first look at PAC contributions to elected officials at the state level. What else would you like to know that we could include in our future research? What do you think of these results?