Independence Institute Hosts Election Wrap-Up
by Ari Armstrong, November 7, 2002
What's wrong with campaign finance restrictions? Why did the Republicans do so well in the elections? Why did some pollsters predict a Strickland victory?
L-r: David Kopel, Jon Caldara, Tom McAvoy, Lynn Bartels, Floyd Ciruli, and Katy Atkinson.
A distinguished crowd including John Andrews (newly selected President of the Colorado Senate), Ralph Shnelvar (Libertarian candidate for governor), Penn Pfiffner (President of the Colorado Union of Taxpayers), Bob Beauprez (perhaps the Congressman from the 7th), and others attended an elections wrap-up forum November 7 at the Independence Institute in Golden.
David Kopel, research director for the think-tank, moderated the event. Pollster Floyd Ciruli sat on the panel along with Katy Atkinson and journalists Lynn Bartels (Rocky Mountain News) and Tom McAvoy (Pueblo Chieftain).
Kopel noted most of the ballot initiatives went down to defeat, including one promoting "same-day election fraud." But Amendment 27 passed, imposing "very severe" restrictions on campaign finance.
Bob Beauprez may be the Congressman from the 7th district. He supported the Amendment 22 gun-registration initiative, but he said he wants no more federal gun laws. Will he be a friend or foe of liberty in Washington? Libertarians worry.
Atkinson said "there's something for everybody to hate" in 27. It imposes "ridiculously low limits" on contributions to candidates and parties. She predicted parties and candidates will have less control over campaigns in future years, and outside interest groups will have more of an impact. Thus, paradoxically, if voters thought voting for 27 would eliminate the negative ads that plagued this election season, passage of the initiative will likely result in more negative ads run by outside "education committees." Interestingly, "small-donor committees" are expressly allowed to give more money under 27, and these groups are especially useful for groups like labor unions.
In fact, Atkinson said this year's elections were negatively impacted by previous attempts to limit campaign finance. The first such restrictions imposed in the 1970s, along with subsequent legislation, have "cut the legs out from under political parties," and this is an "enormous tragedy." She argued parties have an incentive to maintain their long-term viability, whereas there are "no restrictions" on education committees and few incentives to behave responsibly.
However, "the lawyers are going to make out very, very well," Atkinson said. She predicted it will now be difficult to run for office without an "army of lawyers and accountants." The language of 27 is "very bizarre and convoluted."
While the impacts on third parties were not addressed specifically, the Libertarian Party opposed Amendment 27, and its leaders argue 27 will further hinder the ability of third parties to make political headway. Already cash-poor third-party candidates will have an even more difficult time raising money, and they will have to spend more time and money attempting to navigate the murky legal waters.
Many leaders of the campaign finance reform movement state as their explicit goal the complete tax-payer funding of all elections. However, many Libertarians have refused government funds for their campaigns, even when they were eligible, on the basis that it's morally wrong to use tax money for that purpose. Ironically, Amendment 27 might actually make Colorado campaigning nastier and less accountable, thus possibly increasing public pressure for tax-funded elections. Of course, this entails a government ban on independent political speech. (So much for so-called "liberals" defending the First Amendment.)
"No speech is more important than political speech, and that's why I object to rationing it," Atkinson said: "All we can do is pray nightly for the court challenges" to 27.
Kopel suggested Al Gore and his lawyers attempted to steal the election in 2000, and this motivated Republicans to get out the vote this year. Outside groups educated voters about Strickland's position on abortion. The NRA backed Allard, and the civil-rights group did a "very good job informing its members" about Strickland's flip-flop on the matter. (Strickland criticized Allard for not supporting the expansion of Brady gun registrations to all sales at gun shows -- even though Allard does support a federal law modeled on Colorado's Amendment 22 -- but in general Strickland campaigned for more gun restriction laws last time and largely ignored the issue this time.) The gun issue likely also helped Beauprez, who was hit by Mike Feeley with an anti-gun TV ad.
Ciruli, former chair of the state Democratic party, cited "the Democrats' poor handling of the Wellstone memorial" as one factor in the elections. In casual conversation, somebody mentioned the fact that the ballots display who took the term limits pledge may have cost Tom Strickland votes, as he was the only candidate not to have taken the pledge. Unfortunately, the Republican shift didn't get much more attention from the panel.
Bartels also suggested campaign finance laws were linked to the "hideous mailings" sent out this year. McAvoy said perhaps some limits on negative ads are needed, since at least one independent group "flat-out lied" in a mailer. But, Atkinson argued, negative political advertising is as old as American politics. It can be useful if it educates voters about legitimate issues.
Ciruli said Marilyn Musgrave "did an extraordinary job" casting her opponent as a "typical tax-and-spend Democrat." Strickland, while not ultimately successful, "dove down Allard's approval ratings," he continued. However, the independent ads against Allard were "over the top." Still, "negative advertising is not a bad thing in itself," Ciruli agreed with Atkinson.
Bartels noted the difference between a negative message and an issue-based one is often "in the eye of the beholder." She said negative ads might help Republicans by turning off independent voters. Bartels noted the importance of "independent verification" of the truthfulness of ads, and she said the News attempted to provide that service.
Fortunately, "the public is getting more sophisticated" about negative ads, Ciruli thinks. McAvoy agreed, saying the negative ads "lost their credibility... with honest voters." Atkinson added, "Money didn't always win," as with the big-donor initiatives. Often the "common-sense of the voter" prevailed.
Ciruli said his polls were fairly accurate for Colorado races and ballot initiatives, with the exception of the Senate race. However, he had said that race was "too close to call." The larger problem resulted from the Zogby poll, which showed Strickland with a nine-point lead at one point. This led to the "great myth of a Strickland landslide."
Pollsters were predisposed to pick Strickland because incumbents who fail to build large leads often fall as uncommitted votes go to the challenger.
"The reason Allard outperformed my poll," Ciruli said, is because of a "tremendous Republican uptick" close to the election. The Republicans mounted a "sensational and exceptional turnout effort."
In general, three factors can lead to results that vary greatly from predictions. First, voters change their opinions between the time of the poll and the time of the vote. Second, people not expected to vote -- and thus not included in the poll -- may vote in the end. (Perhaps the most dramatic example of this is Ventura's victory.) Third, the poll can be conducted poorly. Ciruli said he uses "tight screening" to include voters and exclude non-voters. He also polled the same pool over time. He thought Zogby might have polled for too short a time included some non-voters.
John Andrews, left, and Ralph Shnelvar reflect on this year's election.
Caldara Plans for the Future
Jon Caldara, President of the II, closed by saying he wants not only to stop bad laws, but pass good ones: "We have to get these issues engaged."
Andrews, the founder of the II, stood to explain the value of think-tanks: it is to move the entire debate in a specific direction. The goal of legislators is more short-term: it is to work within the existing establishment to promote specific reforms. Citing an event the previous day at which Milton Friedman promoted vouchers, Andrews said, "We've got to figure out a way to get poor kids out of bad schools."