When Greg Brophy, lead proponent for Amendment 75 and a former Republican state senator, is asked if the initials of the person who inspired the measure to quintuple campaign contribution limits for opponents of self-funding millionaire candidates are "Jared Polis," he laughs before insisting that the measure is actually bipartisan.
"A buddy of mine and I came up with this idea back in January, and it was definitely inspired by the notion that someone might get into the governor's race and spend an unlimited amount of money," Brophy acknowledges. "But the first person who would have triggered our amendment was actually a Republican, Victor Mitchell. He tried to buy the Republican race — but unfortunately for him, he doesn't have much of a personality."
Here's the language for Amendment 75, which is being promoted using the slogan "Stop Buying Our Elections," as it appears on the Colorado Secretary of State's website:
Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution providing that if any candidate in a primary or general election for state office directs more than one million dollars in support of his or her own election, then every candidate for that office in the same election may accept five times the amount of campaign contributions normally allowed?
Current Colorado law limits contributions to $1,150. If Amendment 75 becomes law, that total will be multiplied by five to allow for donations of $5,750 if any candidate in the race gives $1 million or more to her or his own cause.
Brophy sees the measure as a way of closing "the millionaire loophole" in the state. "You can give an unlimited amount of money to your own campaign: $30 million, $40 million, $50 million. Whatever it takes. But if you're raising your own money, Colorado has the second-lowest limit in the country. The most successful campaign that fundraised on this level was [that of] incumbent Governor John Hickenlooper, who was only able to raise a little over $6 million in four years."
The premise of Amendment 75 backers "is that you can effectively buy an election if you have the capacity to spend $20 million or more," he goes on. "As expensive as media markets in Colorado are, $6 million can't effectively compete with $20 million, or $30 million, or $40 million. So if someone donates $1 million, everyone, including the millionaire, will see their campaign limits go up five times. That way, you can compete in Colorado with someone who's willing to spend an unlimited amount of money."
In Brophy's view, this argument resonates with people on both sides of the ideological divide. "I can't tell you how many Cary Kennedy supporters I've heard from who've thanked me for running this," he allows. "And we've gotten endorsements from a lot of general good government folks, as well as from the Denver Post."
True enough — but members of the Post's editorial board had some caveats about Amendment 75 despite ultimately giving it their blessing. One passage maintained that "the language is vague about what groups will actually trigger the multiplier," while another complained that "the backers of this amendment are a secret." Brophy tackles these assertions one at a time.
"I don't agree that the language is vague," he says. "You have to be an announced candidate, and while you're an announced candidate, you have to participate in a fundraising effort for an IEC [independent expenditure committee] or superpac that exists for the sole purpose of electing that candidate for office. So I think the secretary of state is going to have a very easy time establishing these rules."
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As an example, Brophy cites the political action committee tied to former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg that put big bucks into the gubernatorial campaign of ex-state senator Mike Johnston. And while he concedes that the wealthy father of a candidate might be able to get around the rules by putting a seven-figure sum into a superpac before an official entry into the race, "if they added more after that, it would be over a million."
In regard to the ongoing secrecy involving Amendment 75's funders, Brophy maintains that "in this day and age, when people see their names dragged through the mud and their businesses boycotted for participation in political activity, is it any surprise that they may want to retain a little anonymity, so they don't wind up becoming targets?"
Another gripe about Amendment 75 voiced by the Durango Herald is that the proposed fix for excessive spending by one candidate is to let everyone else in the race collect even more — which presumably won't thrill those who think the amount of greenbacks in politics is already out of control. This opinion is shared by Colorado Common Cause, whose take on the amendment reads in part, "The solution to too much money in politics is not more money in politics. Democracy functions best when we all participate and when elected officials are responsive to their constituents. The corrupting influence of money can drown out the voices of everyday people. This amendment will allow wealthy individuals to give up to five times the current contribution limits directly to candidates, increasing the opportunity for quid pro quo corruption, and there is no evidence that it will lead to fairer or more competitive elections."
To that, Brophy says, "I guess I understand that if you think it's okay for one person to put in $50 million and somebody else to only raise $5 million, and you're worried that the person who raised $5 million might be able to raise $25 million. But that's upside down. If you want an election and not an auction, you shouldn't oppose this."