One way to cut through the noise of elections: find out who’s bankrolling them. Denver just made that easier.

It’s even got a cool name.
3 min. read
Super Tuesday at the Hiawatha Davis recreation center in Northeast Park Hill, March 3, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Knowing who pays for elections is one way to break through the noise of an election. And Denver just made it easier to trace the money behind the campaigns.

Denver Elections unveiled its new campaign finance and disclosure system for the city last week. Called SearchLight Denver,  it uses software custom-made for the city by a nonprofit called MapLight, which specializes in creating campaign finance tools.

City Clerk and Recorder Paul D. López said upgrading the city's campaign finance reporting system is supposed to help with transparency, especially for anyone who wants to know where the money for certain politicians or ballot measures is coming from.

But SearchLight won't just make campaign contributions easier to understand. López believes the new system will make it easier for political newcomers to run for office. He recalled the first time he ran for office, as a 28-year-old in 2007.

"Literally, the campaign finance paperwork was either written by hand or typed out," López said. "I inherited a system that has never, ever prioritized ease of access or ultimate transparency. It just didn't."

With the new system, you can break down and see who, for example, is giving money to a committee supporting or opposing a certain ballot measure. You can also see that money has already started pouring in for two ballot measures -- one about recycling and waste, the other focusing on providing legal representation for people facing eviction -- that Denverites will vote on this fall.

While this information has always been publicly available, it wasn't necessarily easy to find, which is one of the reasons López was so keen on revamping the whole system.

Now, you can see where candidates are getting their money from a lot more clearly, with fewer steps. You can see, for example, that six current council members have already started getting money for their 2023 reelection campaigns, with Councilmember Kevin Flynn leading the way with $10,845 in campaign contributions this election cycle.

López said MapLight was chosen through a bidding process. MapLight President and Co-Founder Daniel G. Newman said the only other place using this tech is California's secretary of state office, which oversees elections.

"Candidates need money to run their campaigns, and members of the public need to know who's providing that money so they can judge if their representatives are acting in their own best interests," Newman said. "Without transparency for money in politics, voters don't know who their representatives are accountable to."

The new system will also help implement the city's Fair Election Fund, which will make $8 million in public money available to candidates starting in the 2023 election. Voters approved the program during the 2018 election.

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