When former state representative Kathleen Curry changed her party affiliation from Democrat to unaffiliated before the 2010 session of the Colorado General Assembly, she bit off more than any politician could be expected to chew.
She gave up her position in leadership as the speaker pro-tem of the House of Representatives. She created a scenario where, because of laws related to how long she had been an unaffiliated voter, that her name could not appear on the ballot and she had to run for re-election to the state House through a write-in campaign. And, Colorado campaign finance laws allowed her to solicit campaign contributions only half as large as her Republican and Democratic challengers because there was no primary in which she could compete.
Despite these obstacles, she actually beat Republican Luke Korkowski and came within 359 votes of Democrat Roger Wilson, who won the election. As she approached the election, I thought the need for her supporters to write in her name would be the problem she would never be able to overcome. Even the most active and popular state legislators struggle to top 50 percent name recognition.
While being forced to run a write-in campaign was a huge task, the issue that Curry chose to sue over was the one involving contributions. Colorado’s constitution allows candidates to collect up to $200 per person for both their primary and general election campaigns. There are no requirements that the money be spent for the election for which the money is given. So, for candidates running as members of political parties that have primaries, the real finance limitation is $400 per election cycle (so long as at least $200 is donated prior to the primary election).
But, if a candidate such as Curry runs as an unaffiliated, there is no primary, and campaign donations are capped at $200. Curry has filed a lawsuit, which has now made its way to the Colorado Supreme Court. Oral arguments were heard last week, and a decision will be made soon.
Because not all donors make maximum contributions, Curry’s argument that an unaffiliated candidate will need twice as many donors to raise as much money as a candidate backed by a party is flawed, but her basic premise is sound. Campaign finance laws should not impose different finance restrictions on candidates based upon whether there is or isn’t a primary. If the Supreme Court does not strike down the law, this inequity should be corrected. However, because this unfair provision was placed into our constitution through an initiated measure, if the courts don’t invalidate it, a vote of the people will be necessary to fix it.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.