The invite from attorney Martha Tierney took me by surprise: “Friend, I would be delighted if you would join me at my table in support of Colorado Common Cause for a Champions for Democracy luncheon and fundraiser.”
As a journalist, I tangled over the years with Tierney and Common Cause on several issues, including Amendment 41, the ethics measure that is less than crystal clear, and ballot proposals that limited campaign-finance donations, which critics said just drove the money underground.
And so I e-mailed Tierney, the attorney for the Colorado Democratic Party, to say that if I had been put on that list by mistake I totally understood. To my surprise, she actually had invited me.
The event Thursday at the Denver Consistory was a reminder of the good work Common Cause does do.
“As many of you know who have been longtime supporters of Common Cause, our first campaign in the 1970s was working to pass the Sunshine Law,” said Elena Nuñez, the executive director of the group.
Nuñez lauded Republican Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams for convening a group to study how the state’s open records laws can be updated to reflect strides in technology. An open-records bill introduced in the 2016 died after stakeholders said it was flawed.
“And that’s one of the keys to our success, we’re able to work with our partners, even when we don’t initially agree, to find common ground,” she said. “Working together we’ve made great strides to reclaim our democracy and we have great opportunities ahead with your support we can work toward a government that truly is of, by, and for the people.”
At Thursday’s event, Common Cause handed out “Champions for Democracy” Awards. Recipient Carla Castedo, the Colorado director of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, has worked to develop strategic partnerships through the state on efforts such as voter registration, education and mobilization, and community engagement, according to Colorado Cause’s program about her honor.
Also receiving the award was Maureen Welch, as a frequent visitor to the Capitol in the 2016 session to work on transparency reforms for nonprofit boards that manage public disability spending in Colorado. The governor signed into law Senate Bill 38, which requires periodic state audits of community boards that receives from than 75 percent of their money from tax dollars.
Four lawmakers who worked together on a bill that requires more transparency on spending in school board elections also received Champions for Democracy awards. They are: Democratic Reps. KC Becker of Boulder and Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood, and Sens. Nancy Todd, an Aurora Democrat, and Jack Tate, a Centennial Republican.
The lawmakers Nuñez and Peg Perl with Colorado Ethics Watch for being, as Becker said, “the real brains who actually knew how to get done what we wanted to get done.”
House Bill 1282 bill requires the disclosure of independent expenditures of more than $1,000 within 60 days prior to a school board election. It also requires disclosure of spending on advertisements, billboards and direct mailings. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed it into law on June 8.
Tate said the “heavy lifting on the bill” was done in the House, but he saved most of his praise for Nuñez, noting he also worked with her on other election bills.
“Elena’s very good at keeping the focus on policy as much as possible” as opposed to partisan interests,” he said.
Tate got a big laugh when he talked about his appearance at the Common Cause lunch.
“Last fall I went to a luncheon invited by a friend. I didn’t read the title of the lunch — it was a ladies lunch and I was one of two men in a room of 400 women. Earlier this year I went to a political-action group — it was an African American political-action group. I was the only Caucasian there,” he said.
“I’m kind of struck that I’m maybe one of two Republicans in the room so I’m getting the hang of this thing.”
Julia Sunny contributed to this report. She is a Colorado State University student interning with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.