House passes ‘critical’ campaign spending disclosure bill

State Sen. Morgan Carroll’s (D-Aurora) election expenditure bill, SB 203 (pdf), which mandates disclosure of corporate and union spending in Colorado elections, passed on third reading in the state House Tuesday, sending it to Gov. Bill Ritter’s desk after it passed on a party-line vote in the Senate Friday.

“All [Senate] Republicans voted against disclosing corporate/labor contributions,” Carroll noted on her Facebook page.

SB 203 represents arguably the most significant campaign finance reform undertaken in the nearly completed legislative session, and it comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission case allowing unlimited corporate and union spending on elections.

The passage of the bill means “closing disclosure loopholes on now-allowed unlimited corporate and union independent expenditures post Citizens United,” Carroll wrote. The bill was sponsored in the House by majority leader Paul Weissmann (D-Louisville).

Corporations and unions were previously banned from making independent expenditures in Colorado, but that prohibition was reversed by the controversial Supreme Court decision in January.

“Once those bans were overturned as a consequence of the Citizens United decision, it became critical that the legislature enact new independent expenditure reporting requirements so that voters can at least know who is behind ads that support or oppose candidates for office,” said Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch.

“Certainly, there is more that can and should be done in future legislative sessions to improve Colorado’s campaign finance laws, including even stronger disclosure requirements and a voluntary public financing system for state campaigns,” he said, adding that the legislative turnaround was pretty impressive given the Colorado Supreme Court’s March 22 response to Gov. Bill Ritter’s inquiry on the impacts of Citizens United on Amendment 27. That was a campaign finance constitutional amendment passed by Colorado voters in 2004.

Leslie Robinson, a political observer and oil and gas activist in Garfield County, was pleased to see the passage of SB 203, but doesn’t think it will stem the flow of industry money that some critics say skewed local races in the 2008 election.

“I am excited to see the corporate disclosure bill,” Robinson said. “I won’t go as far to say it will deter oil-and-gas industry ‘employee’ donations to PAC’s that will target local Democratic candidates in county races, but at least we will know who and how much they paid to influence election outcomes.”

The oil and gas companies themselves don’t typically donate to political action committees, but their CEO’s and other top management employees do. During the 2008 election, for instance, the CEO of Denver-based Antero Resources contributed to a group called Western Heritage – also funded by Republican gubernatorial candidate and oil and gas lobbyist Scott McInnis – which spent $20,000 campaigning for Republican county commissioner candidates who eventually won.

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