The Post ed­i­to­rial: Sta­ple­ton sets a bad ex­am­ple with his novel strat­egy to raise big bucks for a likely gu­ber­na­to­rial run.

The Denver Post - - NEWS -

Walker Sta­ple­ton, the Colorado trea­surer, has at­tracted front-page at­ten­tion for a novel strat­egy to raise big bucks for a likely gu­ber­na­to­rial run. While his move can be viewed as an in­evitable out­growth of how tan­gled cam­paign fi­nance laws cor­rupt our pol­i­tics, we wish the trea­surer had set a bet­ter ex­am­ple and not led us down this path — for oth­ers surely will fol­low.

As The Den­ver Post’s Mark K. Matthews re­ported, the Re­pub­li­can plans to ap­pear at a high-dol­lar fundraiser on Aug. 21 on be­half of Bet­terColoradoNow, an in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture com­mit­tee that seeks to cause trou­ble for Demo­cratic can­di­dates. Sta­ple­ton is do­ing so even though he hasn’t made his can­di­dacy of­fi­cial. His coy­ness al­lows him to avoid rules that pro­hibit co­op­er­a­tion be­tween such com­mit­tees and can­di­dates.

We ar­gue that Sta­ple­ton’s planned work­around vi­o­lates the spirit of the law and the clear ex­pec­ta­tion of Colorado vot­ers, who have con­sis­tently sought to set strict lim­its on po­lit­i­cal fundrais­ing. Such dodges add to the rea­sons vot­ers feel down in their bones that the sys­tem is fall­ing apart.

That said, Sta­ple­ton would be a strong can­di­date for gover­nor, and his de­ci­sion to ap­pear at the fundraiser could be re­versed. We ad­mit the forces that have driven him to this point are re­lent­less.

Should he en­ter the race, Sta­ple­ton would face a field with wealthy can­di­dates on the left and the right will­ing to con­trib­ute mil­lions to their cam­paigns, which they are free to do un­der the law. Then there is the fact that other can­di­dates will also ben­e­fit from in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture com­mit­tees, al­beit pre­sum­ably formed once they have made their in­ter­est of­fi­cial, free to raise enor­mous war chests.

Against this back­drop, other laws in Colorado greatly re­strict the amount of money a can­di­date for gover­nor and other top elected po­si­tions can raise for their own cam­paigns.

With Amend­ment 27, Colorado vot­ers made abun­dantly clear they wanted to rein in cash in pol­i­tics. Over­whelm­ingly passed in 2002, the law presently caps in­di­vid­ual gifts to gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­dates at $1,150. That’s one of the low­est lim­its in the coun­try, and ex­perts ques­tion whether such ane­mic al­lowances could sur­vive a court chal­lenge that ar­gued the stric­tures vi­o­late con­sti­tu­tional free speech pro­tec­tions. (Law­mak­ers should con­sider pos­ing the ques­tion of more rea­son­able lim­its to vot­ers in the com­ing ses­sion.)

The bot­tom line here is that Colorado’s lim­its make it tough for a statewide race. The re­sult is that, even a strong can­di­date mes­sage can eas­ily be lost to the bet­ter­funded cam­paigns — even friendly ones — that end up defin­ing the race ac­cord­ing to their in­ter­ests.

None of that strikes us as true to the spirit of the demo­cratic process: a point Sta­ple­ton and his sym­pa­thiz­ers could le­git­i­mately make against us.

If all that sounds con­fus­ing — we’re talk­ing about ar­cane cam­paign fi­nance ques­tions af­ter all – one thing should be clear: By go­ing down this path, Sta­ple­ton is brush­ing away any pre­tense of keep­ing an arm’s length from Bet­terColoradoNow. Should he keep play­ing this game to fill its cof­fers, vot­ers will be jus­ti­fied in hold­ing Sta­ple­ton ac­count­able for the com­mit­tee’s mes­sag­ing.

Un­less, of course, he changes his mind and asks or­ga­niz­ers to skip the shindig un­til he’s ac­tu­ally in the race. The mem­bers of The Den­ver Post’s ed­i­to­rial board are Wil­liam Dean Sin­gle­ton, chair­man; Mac Tully, CEO and pub­lisher; Chuck Plun­kett, edi­tor of the ed­i­to­rial pages; Me­gan Schrader, ed­i­to­rial writer; and Co­hen Peart, opin­ion edi­tor.

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