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