Denverite’s Erica Meltzer reports that Denver residents once again won’t get to vote on a wide-ranging campaign-reform proposal that, among other features, would have introduced public funding for campaigns. When all the tallying was done at the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s Office, the ballot initiative and petition drive by the group Clean Slate Now had fallen just shy of the 4,726-signature threshold needed to make it onto the fall ballot.
The proposal had a lot of moving parts. Among which, it would have banned corporate and union donations to candidates in Denver municipal races; it would have lowered limits on individual contributions to candidates, and — in what was probably the most progressive provision — it would have set up an $8 million fund to allow for public financing of elections. Candidates who opted in would have had to agree to a certain number of public debates and accept an even lower limit on individual contributions.
As we’ve noted before, asking the public to foot some of the bill for political campaigns is a touchstone in some political circles — viewed as a last, best hope for curbing the influence of special interests on candidates and their campaigns. If the money comes from the public till, the reasoning goes, the candidates are less likely to be beholden to anyone in particular. And, ideally, office seekers also would spend less time dialing for dollars.
Of course, dinging the public for political speech doesn’t sit well with many who reside elsewhere on the political spectrum, particularly on the right. And it may affront the sensibilities of centrist voters, too, who may feel the last thing they want to do is be forced to pay for all those obnoxious campaign mailers that usually go straight to the recycle bin.
A similar proposal headed for last year’s municipal ballot was derailed by a court challenge. Perhaps next year?