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A Real Campaign Finance Reform Solution

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(credit: coloradosupremecourt.com)

(credit: coloradosupremecourt.com)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

A decision from the Colorado Supreme Court this week guaranteed that political ads in Colorado from 527’s this year will contain everything imaginable except a few magic words, “elect”, “defeat”, “vote for” or “vote against”.

But with the exception of those few words, Colorado voters will likely hear every other word in the English language that will encourage them to support or criticize candidates in all shapes and sizes.

The decision from the Colorado Supreme Court was based on a complaint from Colorado Ethics Watch which claimed that certain 527 groups produced ads in 2008 that talked specifically about candidates. And because of that, those groups should be classified as political committees. As political committees, those 527 groups would be limited in the individual donations that could be accepted.

So, in a nutshell, the court decision confirmed that 527 groups can raise as much money as they want from whomever they want and say just about anything they want if they avoid the five deadly words.

This situation brings to bear a bigger conversation about free speech rights and campaign finance reform. The battle has always been set with unlimited money representing free speech rights and transparency for citizens representing the need to regulate the system.

A compromise was seemingly found in severely restricting what candidate campaigns can do in the way of fundraising, but allowing anonymous 527 groups do whatever they want in regards to finances, as long as the two groups never officially coordinate campaigns.

While that is the intended model, the reality is that 527 groups have no need to coordinate with candidates if they are going to spend millions defending them or attacking their opponents. In fact, thinking that banning that coordination is somehow leveling the playing field insults the intelligence of every American voter.

But, as I was pondering this situation, and how hopeless it may feel, an idea for a potential solution came to me.

Having transparency of donors to 527’s would be great, but let’s face the cold hard facts. While that sounds great, 90% of voters only pay attention for 30 seconds at a time. I simply can’t imagine many voters really looking up lists of donors, even if transparency existed.

The only thing about 527’s that really irritates people, and is truly misleading, is the names of the organizations. That is the real deceit in the situation.

What if a law was passed that forced 527 groups to name themselves accurately? That information would create instant transparency and be refreshingly honest.

Meaning, there would no longer be groups with names like, Citizens in Support of Good Things, Patriotic Americans for Liberty, and Voter Alliance for Freedom and Security.

We would finally have groups that were named for exactly what they are. Just imagine the names of groups that enforcing that can honesty could produce.

Names like, Oil Companies That Would Like to See a Republican Senate, Union Bosses Hoping to Disband the Republican Party, Corporate CEO’s Playing Both Sides of the Aisle So That We Can Never Lose.

Instant transparency, privacy of donors relatively protected, easily implemented. Ok, maybe this is not a realistic solution, but you cannot tell me that it wouldn’t make the upcoming election season a bit easier to endure.

You’ll think better of my idea the next time you hear an ad urging you to call Candidate X to thank him for protecting Americans produced by the Council of Americans for America, trust me.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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