The country's system of campaign finance is "completely, irretrievably broken," said former Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher. In a talk to Garfield County Democrats Monday evening, he called for a better system to disclose donors to 527-type campaign organizations.
Buescher's talk, which also focused on the positive accomplishments of Democrats in government over the past two years, was the keynote for the party's annual Martin Luther King Day dinner.
Garfield Democrats honored former County Commissioner Tresi Houpt and Assessor John Gorman for their public service, and then awarded the party's Democrat of the Year award to Gorman.
In accepting the award, Gorman asked his fellow Democrats to "stay active, stay connected and provide the energy and direction this county needs."
Newly-elected state Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs, introduced Buescher as the keynote speaker, and underscored Gorman's message, asking Democrats to "make it count, and come out as a strong organization in this county."
Prior to being named Secretary of State in 2009, Buescher served two terms as state representative for Mesa County, including two years chairing the Joint Budget Committee. He recalled raising $260,000 for his 2008 campaign, and being outspent by anonymous left- and right-wing 527 political groups that together spent $1.6 million on the race.
"And to this day, I don't know who those folks were," he said. "The rules for disclosure are completely ineffective. We need a new system of disclosure."
As Secretary of State, Buescher filed a court action against political activist Douglas Bruce, seeking to reveal the funding sources behind three 2010 ballot questions that sought to cut taxes and fees paid to state and local governments.
"We spent thousands of dollars trying to find out who was funding those three initiatives. But [Bruce] played the game, and we never got the disclosure," Buescher said.
His proposed solution would use a function of the Secretary of State's office, which maintains a registry of all companies and nonprofits doing business in Colorado. If a political committee buys advertising, he said, it would be doing business in Colorado, and therefore be required to register the name of someone on the committee.
That would allow citizens better means of finding out who is backing such anonymous campaigns.
In the same way, Buescher called for a change to corporate law that would require companies to disclose to shareholders what they spend on campaign contributions to candidates and office-holders, giving shareholders a chance to question such spending.
All these ideas are aimed at reducing the money spent by anonymous donors on political advertising that becomes more damaging with each election cycle. Because these donors operate behind a cloak of anonymity, it is easier for them to make damaging or outrageous claims against candidates, Buescher said.
"And then our whole conversation falls apart," he said.
"We have to focus on civility. We can disagree, but let's do it right," he said.
Buescher noted that he is planning a brief vacation with his wife, Mary Beth, and that an announcement about his next endeavor will be coming soon. He offered no other details except to say that his new position will not be with Gov. John Hickenlooper's administration.