In November 1996, the voters of Colorado showed their dissatisfaction with money in politics by voting overwhelmingly (66%) to adopt Amendment 15, a comprehensive campaign finance reform plan. This measure set mandatory low contribution limits to candidates from individuals and PACs, established spending limits, banned direct contributions to candidates from corporations and labor unions (similar to the law in place at the federal level), and strengthened disclosure requirements for campaign contributions.
It did not take long for the special interest opponents of campaign finance reform to launch public relations, legislative and legal attacks on the tough new law. Even before the Act took effect, it was challenged in Federal District Court by a variety of plaintiffs including the Colorado Republican Party, two state legislators and an assortment of political action committees. Colorado Common Cause and The League of Women Voters fought these efforts to dismantle the law through the courts by joining the case as amici.
After a lengthy trial, Federal District Judge Daniel Sparr upheld many of the provisions of the law, preserving the voluntary spending limits, the limitations to and from the parties, the enforcement mechanisms, reporting requirements and the ban on sneaky candidate to candidate transfers of money established by the Fair Campaign Practices Act. Unfortunately, the contribution limits were stricken.
Shortly after that decision in August of 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a Missouri case upholding contribution limits similar to those passed by the voters in Colorado (Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Gov't PAC, January 2000). The ruling was a clear and decisive victory for supporters of reform. Despite the Court's ruling in favor of reform, the special interests had no trouble convincing Colorado politicians to gut the law in the 2000 legislative session.
In response, Colorado Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and others gathered and placed Amendment 27 on the ballot in 2002, which passed with 66% of the vote. The voters used their political power to override the state legislature’s gutting of their law. By putting Amendment 27 in the state Constitution, these protections are safe from legislative meddling.