Are Tax Dollars Funding Campaigns?
The 200 election raises the question of whether tax dollars are being used to fund campaigns. As noted in the previous article, one of the six campaign issue committees opposing 200 was called Lakewood Consequences. The group's entire $11,332 in donations came from one source - the Jeffco Economic Development Corporation.
JEC is an investor corporation that brings private industry together with local governments. In addition to "investments" from private companies the City of Lakewood "invests" $20,000/year to the group.
The West Chamber (of Commerce) donated office space to the Lakewood Consequences issue committee. The City of Lakewood donates $10,000/year to the West Chamber.
The question is whether a portion of Lakewood's contribution, funded by the taxpayers, constitutes a diversion of public funds to an election campaign. The Colorado Revised Statutes Section 1-45-117 (the Fair Campaign Practices Act) prohibits governments from making contributions to election campaigns including local ballot issues. This prohibition also includes giving money to an intermediary such as JEC who makes the final donation.
Outlook for November 2019 Election
If the July 2 special election and the 2017 regular City election is any indication, the upcoming election will involve greater efforts at hiding the sources of large amounts of campaign donations.
Since the independents get all their money from individuals the new campaign reporting law won't affect them much.
However, the establishment candidates rely upon large amounts of special interests money in order to be competitive. Since these candidates don't want to be exposed as taking special interest monies, they will form "independent expenditure" committees.
Since these committees are not limited in the amount of money they can receive the big donations will go to these committees. These committees then turn around the spend the money to support or oppose candidates.
Since these committees are technically separate from the candidate committees, the establishment candidates can claim that they are "not receiving special interest money".
The failure to rein in the amount of campaign donations was only one of problems the special election exposed. One of the law's goals was to shine more light on where campaign donations are coming from.
As previously noted the large multi-thousands of dollar checks from PACs, trade associations and lobbyists hides the individual donors. In fact only one developer, Brookfield Residential (the developer in Rooney Valley that has numerous problems with their misuse of "special districts" and "metro districts" actually made a donation ($10,000) in its own name.
Of the SIX campaign committees formed to fund the anti-200 effort only one (Our Lakewood) reported receiving donations from actual real people (for a total of $2,659).
The other five committees reported their large donations from sources that are undecipable. Citizens for Sound Government, out of Washington D.C., reported receiving $92,557 from themselves. In a circular argument they reported the donations to Citizens for Sound Government came from a group called Citizens for Sound Government.
Lakewood for Labor & Jobs reported receiving all their $86,168 from a group called RMDCS LM Coop Fund Issues Committee. Again no idea who the donors are to this group.
Lakewood Consequencesreported receiving its $11,332 in donations from the Jeffco Economic Development Corporation. See story below.
The Hispanic Chamber of Commercereported receiving all its $2,000 donations from itself, again no indications of who the individual or corporate donors to the Chamber were.
The first test of the City's new campaign finance reform law passed last year was a dismal failure. The law was intended to reduce the influence of special interest money in city elections.
Instead of reducing the amount of special interest money it actually skyrocketed under the new rules. The previous record for the amount of money raised by a city campaign was the $100,000 raised by Adam Paul to beat Ramey Johnson for election to Lakewood mayor in 2015.
In the special election of July 2, 2019 nearly three- quarters-of-a-million dollars ($708,654) was raised by the special interests opposed to the citizens' initiative to slow growth called Question 200. This was SEVEN times more than Adam Paul's 2015 mayor race.
The new law sought to reduce the amount of each donation - $400 for City Council and $800 for Mayor. But without any limits on "issue committees", the highest donation was over a quarter-of-a-million dollars from the national realtors group. Some of the other checks was $25,000 from the Colorado realtors, $25,000 from the Colorado Contractors Assoc., $50,000 from the Apartment Association, $20,000 from the National Assoc. of Home Builders, $35,000 from the Denver Chamber of Commerce. A complete listing is available on the Special Election page.
New Campaign Finance Reform Rules Fail First Test
Sample of Donors for Kyra Degruy, Ward 1