Durango’s City Council made a worthwhile decision recently to significantly lower the threshold at which the source of political issue contributions must be made public.
With the council’s action, contributions of $20 and above rather than $5,000 must be accompanied by the donor’s identity.
The $5,000 rule is one item in a package of state-mandated transparency components that apply to election campaigns. Now, Durango’s City Council has gone further.
We hail this move. We think it will benefit anyone who believes that more transparency in government and elections is always better. We simply cannot see who, in good faith, will be harmed. We hope all citizens will embrace it.
If we can digress from high-mindedness for a moment, we also chuckled a little at the news. The impetus comes in part from the city’s experience with its Big Bertha of a tax increase last November.
Proponents of the increase, including city leaders, perhaps were at a disadvantage once they decided to go through with it. After all, they hoped voters would approve two tax increases then: a 20-year sales tax increase and a mill levy, with proceeds to be used for a new police station and street construction and maintenance, and for adding to the budgets of many other claimed needs. Both tax increases were in a single question, and voters flogged it.
In the run-up to that election, there was considerable public opposition, including by a group which called itself Citizens For Durango’s Future. Yard signs were its most visible influencing vehicle. But where exactly the material support for “Citizens” came from, and how extensive it was, were not known, as its contributions were less than $5,000 and did not have to be identified.
Next time – possibly in the coming weeks as a result of the city’s decision to ask in early April to return to the voters with a request for a sales tax to improve streets – the source of any small amounts will be known, if that group or one like it emerges. To escape the reporting will mean support of less than $20, which is unlikely to create much of a bank account or much of an impression.
On the national level, the courts have so far allowed huge amounts to be raised anonymously for political purposes, including for candidate support. We have legal dark money and gray money in our elections and the overly cute and sanctioned relations of lobbyists and issue committees with candidates. Getting big money out of our elections ought to be a widely shared priority, yet instead, we have a situation akin to arms-reduction talks between hostile powers – our political parties.
Full transparency would make agendas, good or bad depending on your view, clear.
We like windows. We like clean windows better. Let the sun shine through.
To advocate for ballot questions in small-sized municipal elections, the $5,000 threshold was of little consequence. It might have made a difference on the Front Range, in Denver and its environs, but not for most of Colorado geographically, and obviously not for the best parts of Colorado.
That is why we think Durango’s city leadership, including its attorney, should be applauded for recognizing the opportunity to reduce the reporting amount to a size commensurate with the community. All campaign contributors should be willing to be identified.