Strengthening Democracy: Campaign Finance Reform in Aurora

Aurora CF Reform Exec Summary

Democracy for the People Campaign Finance Town Hall

Frequently Asked Questions: 

  • In addition to providing disclosure and other transparency requirements in Aurora, what is being done to lower the need for campaign cash?
    • Public financing programs help to redirect candidates’ focus back to connecting with everyday voters rather than dialing for dollars from special interests (e.g., 9:1 public funds match for small dollar donations ($200 or less) from individuals incentivizes candidates to reach out to as many prospective constituents as possible. It’s important to remember that while money is not speech, it is a reality in our country that money facilitates speech by allowing candidates to purchase air time and effectively operate their campaign, so totally eliminating the need for campaign cash could limit candidates’ ability to connect with voters and get out their messages.    
  • The Aurora Sentinel already notifies voters about who is funding candidates, and yet candidates who have benefited from dark money have still won in recent elections. How do you see this affecting that?
    • While the Sentinel may publish information about direct contributors to candidate campaigns, our proposed ordinance will make it so there is also information available to publish about the donors to “outside” groups, including  independent expenditure PACs and nonprofit organizations, that support candidates with tons of “independent” political advertising. Right now, the funding sources behind a lot of that outside/ independent spending are not publicly transparent. And for part two, bribery is a crime at the federal and state levels, so candidates who do take actual bribes in exchange for officials acts are breaking the law and subject to criminal prosecution!
  • Can we have elections with no private contributions? Can we have elections that have TV stations allow free advertising time? Can we have elections that last only six months or some other limit of time?
    • Some forms of public campaign financing, especially Clean Elections systems, effectively allow candidates to campaign without having to raise money, except for $5 qualifying contributions to become eligible for public funds at the start of their campaign. Some public financing programs also offer certain perks to participating candidates, including special recognition of their publicly-financed status in voter guides. I’m not aware of any states or cities that offer free TV time though. And in terms of a time limit, again, public financing programs often do not allow candidates to receive public campaign funds until the year of an election. But for non-publicly financed candidates, trying to prohibit their fundraising timeframes is in tension with how courts interpret First Amendment protections for political speech activity.  
  • How do we break down the illusion of separation between candidates and the independent expenditure committees spending money on their behalf?
    • A key first step is implementing effective laws that define and restrict “coordination” between candidates and PAC or outside groups that support them. This means comprehensively defining the types of cooperation that constitute legal “coordination” and then treating expenditures made as a result of that cooperation as direct contributions to the beneficiary candidates. Our ordinance includes new, comprehensive restrictions on coordination meant to address this issue.  
  • Would it be better to just eliminate PACs and let candidates take unlimited funds? Will limiting contribution limits just drive the money into darker places?
    • PACs are an important form of political association, so it’s probably not constitutional to abolish them. No limits for candidates presents its own concerns about corruption, or at least the appearance of corruption, in government.  While limiting direct contributions to candidates can drive money to “darker” sources, these sources don’t have to be dark; effective disclosure requirements for independent spending go to this problem. And for what it’s worth, even in states and cities without candidate contribution limits, dark money is still a problem, primarily because the disclosure laws applicable to independent spending are inadequate and thus special interests can hide their political spending from the public eye. . 
  • Will this policy stop IECs from limitless spending or at least hold them accountable in real time. Right now it’s hard for voters to know who is trying to influence their vote before the election is over
    • While we can’t stop all independent spending because of the decision in Citizens United, we can make our campaign finance system more transparent. As the Supreme Court has said, transparency promotes accountability in government “by exposing large contributions and expenditures to the light of publicity”! 
  • There’s so much going on around racial justice right now, is this the right time to be talking about campaign finance reform? What sort of efforts can we make to encourage police reform in Aurora?
    • To start with, we can create an election system that takes away the out-sized influence of corporations and big money and instead empower small-dollar donors and enables regular people to run for and win office, where they will prioritize the public interest over the special interests 
  • Is aggressive campaign finance reform alone enough to rid our system of an unhealthy culture of negative partisanship?
    • No, but it’s part of the solution to the problem. The larger problem of extreme partisanship is complex, but certainly enabling the public to hold candidates and elected officials accountable for outsourced attack ads and other dirty politics would help to make our political culture less hostile. 



If you’re interested in getting involved in the fight for campaign finance reform in Aurora, click here to add your support: