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Show Me the Money: Colorado Campaign Cash Influx

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August 31, 2011

DENVER - Campaign spending is going up - but less of the money is being spent by candidates for public office. A new report says independent campaign financing in Colorado more than tripled between 2008 and 2010, and spending in 2010 was 68 times more than in 2006.

Reasons for the increase are complicated, says Edwin Bender, executive director of Follow the Money, the research group behind the report. He lists a combination of more stringent state reporting standards that began in 2006, plus a hotly contested midterm election and the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision giving businesses the same standing as individuals in campaign contributions.

"I think that Colorado, because of Citizens United, the people who were planning out two and four years, they wanted to get an independent spending protocol in hand."

Most of the races targeted in 2010 were for congressional and legislative seats - accounting for $22 million of the nearly $26 million spent in the state. Nearly two-thirds of independent spending in Colorado came from the Republican party and Christian conservatives.

The Citizen's United decision, while having a small impact, didn't provide a huge influx of money to campaigns, Bender says, adding that many businesses don't want to alienate potential customers with political activism.

"For them to say, 'We are, as a company, going to give $10 million to elect this slate of candidates,' is really going out on a limb. I don't think you're going to see that from very many corporations. "

Bender is also concerned that in local government, tax or regulatory reasons, or even potential government contracts could spur some businesses to finance campaigns to gain political influence.

Jeff Friedman, research director at Maplight.org, which looks at the influence of money in politics, says the biggest problem is not the amount of contributions, but the lack of transparency about their source.

"They're allowed to come up with any benign-sounding name for the organization and put forth their particular slant on the issue, but without knowing any kind of the motivation behind it."

For instance, the largest funder in the state was a group known as "Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government." The Follow the Money report notes that many groups make it difficult to determine exactly who is funding the organization, even though state law requires detailed disclosure.

The full report is online at followthemoney.org.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO