16 April 2008

The Irrelevance of Political Parties

Colorado law gives political parties in the state among the most powerful political parties in any state in the nation. A closed caucus process is the primary means of placing candidates on the ballot, giving Colorado political parties a very high level of control over who ends up on the ballot representing them compared to many states. A petition alternative is available, but it is burdensome and those who choose it have a mixed record of success in the closed primaries where voters registered in a party can select from caucus or petition nominated candidates. State party chairs in the state have also developed a tradition of using the post as a bully pulpit that the mass media often choses to heed.

But what political parties lack in Colorado is money. Through February 2008, the Colorado Democratic Party has just $99,450 of cash on hand. The Colorado Republican Party had $166,400 of cash on hand, but also $360,173 of debt, leaving it with a net $243,773 negative financial net worth. These cash on hand numbers do not reflect many of the substantial costs associated with holding state party conventions in May.

County parties and party organs have additional funds, with reports for most of them in the first quarter due by May 1, 2008. But these parties also had to pay out of their own pockets for all of the costs of holding just completed caucuses, county assemblies, state house district assemblies, state senate district assemblies and judicial district assemblies. For most, high turnout produced high contributions which made 2008 a good year, but these party entities are not flush in either party.

Democratic candidates for federal offices (excluding one leading candidate for whom numbers weren't available) had over $6 million of cash on hand.

Republican candidates for federal offices had more than $1.2 million in cash on hand (excluding four major candidates for federal office).

On top of this there has been significant fundraising for district attorney, state senate and state house races, as well as CU Regent and State Board of Education races in both parties, and there has been fund raising by independent bodies as well.

Simply put, the overwhelming majority of partisan political money in the state goes to candidates, 527s and other independent political committees, while a mere pittance goes to the political parties themselves.

Some of this is due to Amendment 27 (Colorado Constitution Title XXVIII), which regulates state level campaign finance, and parallel legislation at the federal level. No individual can give more than $3000 per year to all organs of a single political party combined in a given year, from caucus buck bags, to house district organizations, to special interest groups like the Denver Young Dems, to county parties, to the state party. But while it is an accounting nightmare to coordinate Amendment 27 reporting for these myriad entities, as treasurer of the largest county party organization in the state I can say with reasonable comfort that I can count on my fingers the number of donations that we have been forced to turn away as a result of the $3,000 cap. The political parties would get a boost if the cap were removed, but it would be a modest one.

Candidates have all the money, and hence are largely free from control or guidance from their political parties.

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