The Colorado Supreme Court rejected a referendum to stem the flow of money in politics by banning holders of large, no-bid government contracts from making campaign contributions. It also threw out the baby with the bathwater, rejecting a public database of no-bid contracts.
First, on the campaign contribution front: The decision, while troubling, may not toll the death knell for all efforts to limit corporate money in politics. The referendum, passed by Colorado voters in 2008, was overbroad and apparently so poorly drafted that it could not pass constitutional muster. The underlying referendum, however, demonstrates that outside the halls of justice, citizens recognize the corrupting and coercive influence of corporate money in elections and want to do something to limit it.
Next, on the transparency front: While undoing the will of the voters on the campaign finance issues, the court also threw out provision that would have required the state compile a public database of all no-bid state or local contracts greater than $100,000. Pulling the plug on a simple transparency measure, one that would not only inform the public but also likely lead to more competition for state contracts, sets a dangerous precedent.
It’s possible, even likely, that the database was an innocent victim of the court’s broader decision. Hopefully the Colorado legislature will quickly pass a bill to clarify the situation and give the state the go-ahead to complete the database project.