In the end, winning was all
By Reggie Rivers
Denver Post Columnist
Thursday, November 07, 2002
I'm glad election season is over. I'm not sure I could have taken another
round of mindless, intellectually insulting and cynical attack ads urging us to
rush out to the polls to vote "against" this candidate or that measure.
Politicians routinely tell us that they want to focus on the issues and help
build an informed electorate, but when push comes to shove, all they really care
about is getting elected. Scaring people with vitriolic exaggerations,
half-truths and outright lies about your opponent is a proven formula for
The good news from the election is that voters passed Amendment 27, which seeks
to limit campaign contributions. The bad news is that the amendment may not
survive legal challenges, but the silver lining is that this is a step in the
right direction and hopefully the courts will help us figure out where we can
draw the line on donations.
This election provided several examples of the power that money plays in
determining results. I voted against Amendment 31 (dubbed English for the
Children) because I thought it was short-sighted, poorly crafted, unreasonably
restrictive and unnecessarily biased against Spanish-speakers. So I'm glad it
failed. However, I have reservations
about the method.
Months ago, Amendment 31 had strong backing in the polls. I, and many other
people, spoke out against it, but it wasn't until heiress Pat Stryker gave $3
million to the group fighting the amendment that the tide started to turn. Her
donation financed a slew of television ads that urged voters to reject the
measure. On Tuesday, 56 percent did just that.
Stryker's check illustrates a problem that afflicts our entire political
process. Yes, each of us has a First Amendment right to make a donation, but at
what point does money give one person or one group too much control over an
At what point does our motto stop being "one person, one vote" and become "one
dollar, one vote"?
In the Senate battle between Wayne Allard and Tom Strickland, the two men set
new Colorado records for the length of their campaigns (more than a year), and
money spent (more than $10 million). Special-interest groups contributed an
additional $2 million to both sides.
If you were hiring a new purchasing manager for your company, wouldn't you be
suspicious if your biggest supplier spent $1 million to persuade you to hire
John Doe? Wouldn't it suggest that the company expected a return on its
investment once John took over?
It's common sense when we look at it in any context except politics. Somehow,
we're supposed to trust that money does not corrupt our election process. But on
Tuesday, we voters passed Amendment 27, proving that we understand the problem,
are concerned about it, and want to see a reduction of the role that cash plays
in choosing our political leaders.
Although Amendment 27 doesn't cover races for federal office, we can at least
hope it will reduce attack ads in state races. And on federal races, we should
get some help from the new limitations on soft-money spending. too. I don't
believe Allard and Strickland could possibly be as petty, corrupt,
mean-spirited, hypocritical or stupid as they were
portrayed in the television and radio ads sponsored by soft-money supporters.
I'll bet both men would have preferred to avoid mudslinging. They both likely
would have wanted to take the high road and talk about their achievements
instead of sprinkling poisonous out-of-context quotes on the electorate.
But the race was too close, so they both descended to personal lows in their
attempt to win the Senate seat.
Why did they campaign this way? Because they were under tremendous pressure to
win. Thousands of people made donations to Allard and Strickland. Thousands of
corporations wrote checks. Hundreds of volunteers served on their campaigns, and
more than a million people went to the polls on Tuesday to vote for them.
Even if Allard or Strickland had said, "Look, I'm opposed to these negative
attack ads," their supporters would have created them anyway, because attack ads
work. At the end of the day, winning was all that mattered.
Former Denver Broncos player Reggie Rivers
Thursdays on The Post's op-ed page.