Campaign financeDenverFeaturedNews

Denver would match candidate contributions under campaign-finance measure

Author: Adam McCoy - August 16, 2018 - Updated: August 16, 2018

Voters check in with election judges before being allowed to cast primary election ballots at the Denver Elections Division headquarters early Tuesday, June 26, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Sweeping campaign finance reform is in the works in Denver with legislation proposing the creation of a public fund to match contributions, significant new limits on donations, and a ban corporate contributions to candidates.

Under the proposed Denver City Council measure, the city would create the Fair Elections Fund, which would match campaign donations with public money — up to $50 per donor, at a 9-to-1 ratio. That equates to $450 per donor.

The city would put nearly $3 per resident into the fund annually; the system would not exceed $8 million. Furthermore, the fund would serve as a voluntary public campaign finance system.

The “costs of running political campaigns have dramatically escalated in recent years, leading to a public perception that special interests and wealthy individuals may have undue influence on or access to elected officials,” the bill reads. 

“Providing public funds to match small donations from city residents will give a greater voice to small donors, thereby encouraging more citizens to get involved in the financing of election campaigns,” it says.

Mayoral candidates could receive a maximum of $750,000 under the proposed fund, while at-large council member, clerk and recorder, judge and auditor candidates are limited $250,000 and district council members would max out at $125,000. Payments would be made on a quarterly basis, lining up with campaign finance report due dates.

The fund does come with some strings attached. To participate, candidates must show the viability of their candidacy by receiving a specified number of donors before qualifying. Mayoral candidates are required to have 250 campaign donors and candidates for other offices become eligible at 100.

With participation comes significant limits on contributions per donor. For instance, a donor to a mayoral candidate’s campaign can currently contribute up to $3,000 per election cycle, but would be limited to contributions up to $1,000 under the proposed legislation. A donor to a candidate for city auditor, at-large council member, clerk and recorder or judge would be limited to $700; and district council member contributions per donor would be limited to $400.

Additionally, the bill stipulates candidates participate in at least two public debates.

Publicly funded or not, the proposal would ban corporations and other entities from donating directly to candidates, though donations can continue to be made to political action committees or PACs, which in turn can make campaign contributions.

As Denverite reports, the bill, backed by Denver Councilman Kevin Flynn and others, is a response to a grassroots campaign by the Democracy for the People for reform.

The group has a similar proposal but has agreed to work with the city if it delays the legislation until after next year’s municipal election, The Denver Post reports. That means new rules wouldn’t be in place until the 2023 election cycle. The Post also notes many candidates like Mayor Michael Hancock have already exceeded many of the limits under the proposal.

The legislation advanced through Denver’s Finance and Governance committee this week. If the bill sees approval by the city, it would go before voters for approval on the ballot.

Adam McCoy

Adam McCoy

Adam McCoy covers Denver-area politics for Colorado Politics.