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Initiative 82, supporting campaign-finance limits, joins Amendment 64 on November ballot

As we reported earlier this week, the presidential campaigns and supporting super PACs have already spent a whopping total of $25.7 million on advertisements in Colorado. That number is going to continue to skyrocket in this key swing state -- and experts expect spending to reach $1.1 billion across the country.

But come November, Colorado voters fed up with the endless onslaught of advertising will have a chance to call for spending limits -- thanks to a ballot initiative approved this week.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler has announced that Initiative 82 -- "Colorado Congressional Delegation to Support Campaign Finance Limits" -- got enough signatures to appear on the November ballot.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler at a recent press conference.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler at a recent press conference.
Sam Levin

Essentially, the initiative instructs Colorado's elected officials to pass a federal constitutional amendment to limit campaign contributions and spending. If passed, it's not binding, but it would be a clear message from Colorado voters to representatives that they are sick of the largely unrestricted spending in political campaigns.

Many already are. After all, Coloradans have already been inundated with political advertising during this election cycle, and there are still two months to go.

The initiative making it onto the ballot is a win for local good government and watchdog groups that have been pushing for campaign finance reforms.

It'll also be only one of two initiatives on the ballot -- the other being the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol act, which is already getting a lot of attention and has its own advertisements already hitting the airwaves.

"As a state that's the target of so much political spending, the issue of money in politics is an important one for Colorado voters," says Elena Nuñez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, which has been pushing Initiative 82. "Colorado voters came out in support of this in overwhelming numbers, because they are seeing the impact of money."

She adds, "It gives Colorado voters a chance to say we want a government that is of, by and for the people and not of, by and for the corporate interests."

According to the announcement from Gessler, proponents of Initiative 82 submitted 182,113 signatures to the Secretary of State's office on August 6th. A 5 percent random sample review of the signatures projected the number of valid signatures to be more than 90 percent of the total number required for placement on the ballot. And after the required line-by-line review of every signature submitted, the Secretary of State deemed the petition sufficient.

Continue reading for more specifics on the initiative.

"We are seeing an already bad system really explode out of control," says Nuñez, noting the strong influence of super PACs -- controversial independent political fundraising groups that technically don't "coordinate" with candidates they are supporting.

Elena Nunez of Common Cause
Elena Nunez of Common Cause

"Certainly in Colorado, we've been seeing television ads for month and it's just now September," she says. "We are in uncharted territory and voters are frustrated."

And money makes a big difference, she believes.

"The problem with our current system is that those that can write the biggest checks can have the biggest voice," she says. "It really distorts representation when you have big money having such an undue influence on the process."

Common Cause's release applauding Gessler's announcement notes a recent report showing that "outside spending" organizations reported $167.5 million to the Federal Election Commission. Of this, the report says, $12.7 million (7.6 percent of the total) was "secret money" that isn't traceable to an original source.

The initiative doesn't call for specific limitations on ad spending but urges representatives to make this issue a priority.

Nuñez says, "This is really first step in long movement to reclaim our democracy."

More from our Politics archive: "Where's Mike Coffman? website targets congressman -- and his campaign hits back"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.