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 success.

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 election?
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 ( writes Thursdays on The Post's op-ed page.


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