HB 1370 aims to rein in anonymous campaign spending on ballot measures

A bill intended to clarify which groups are backing or opposing ballot measures – as well as provide administrative law judges more enforcement leeway in campaign finance cases – passed in the waning days of the legislative session.

House Bill 1370 (pdf), which also addresses the timeline setting out when an issues committee needs to be formed either in opposition or support of a citizen-generated ballot measure, passed on third reading in the state Senate Monday. The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Lois Court (D-Denver) and in the Senate by Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver).

“There has been a controversy and an ongoing legal issue as to when you have to file the fact that you’ve started functioning as an issues community, when two or more people get together to raise money or spend money for or against a ballot issue,” Steadman said.

“There’s always been some question around that, and particularly when you have a preexisting organization that’s been around for a while and now all of a sudden it becomes dedicated to campaigning – where the committee has a major purpose of working on that ballot issue – and this bill defines that term.”

The bill requires the Secretary of State to notify the backers of statewide initiative that they must register as an issues committee if 200 or more petition section are accepted for circulation.

Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, who testified in favor of 1370, said the two most important things the bill does is legally require groups advertising on radio or TV for or against a ballot measure to identify themselves, and then it allows administrative law judges to order parties to correct filings in campaign finances cases, not just impose fines.

Under current Colorado law, issues committees are not legally compelled to identify themselves. FCC disclaimer rules only apply to candidate ads.

“We’ve seen a trend toward more anonymous political spending, and this bill will help rein that in,” Toro said. “Voters deserve to know who is paying to try to influence their decisions on ballot questions.”

According the state, an estimated $70 million was spent for and against ballot measures in Colorado in 2008.

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