SOS hopefuls Buescher, Gessler miles apart on Citizens United ruling

Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher said that while he’s been excited to work on the nuts and bolts of the office, it was the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that ignited his passion for ensuring the Colorado is a state for the people and not for the corporations.

Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher. Photo by Joe Boven

Buescher’s opponent in the upcoming election, Republican attorney Scott Gessler, said he’s unaware of Buescher’s dedication to combating the effects of the Supreme Court case but added he supports the opinion of the court that corporations have First Amendment rights.

During a fundraiser for Buescher and Colorado Treasurer Cary Kennedy last week hosted by Arapahoe County Democrats, Buescher said that after being appointed to the Secretary of State position he hunkered down to ensure Colorado’s elections and business regulatory systems are in top shape, but he said that all changed when the U.S. Supreme Court made its decision.

“The U.S. Supreme Court changed all the rules … they made an awful decision as far as I am concerned,” Buescher said.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations and unions had First Amendment rights that were violated by direct expenditure spending limits. Buescher said that the amount of money special interests could put into political expenditures was truly frightening.

“They said corporations can make direct expenditures …That inspired me, and I said [Secretary of State] is my job,” Buescher said.

Buescher’s opponent, Republican campaign finance litigator Gessler, who sought appointment to the office when Buescher landed it in 2008, said he thought the Democratic Party had something to do with Buescher’s concern about the case, but added he personally supports the ruling of the Supreme Court.

“”I know people have talked about the corporate bogey man. My assessment is that it is not going to make a difference in Colorado politics. It may, I don’t know … big corporations don’t tend to get involved in this sort of stuff or tend to shy away from it, or those who don’t shy away have ways to be involved now.”

Buescher said he worked with state Sen. Morgan Carroll to create SB 203, which compels corporations and unions in Colorado to disclose their election spending. Buescher said it creats greater transparency in the election process. “It requires disclosure and transparency, but we have a lot more to do.”

Gessler said that if Buescher helped draft SB 203, he created a poorly written bill. He said one example of its failure is that it does not define what an independent expenditure is, but said, in his opinion, there are more problems with the bill.

“The problem with a Morgan Carroll’s approach is that she uses power of government to choose winners and losers and who can get involved in campaigns and who can’t,” Gessler said. “Ultimately, what this is is an incumbency protection act that makes it very difficult for people to criticize those in power.”

Buescher said that elections should be for the people and not the voice of the corporations or special interest groups. He said he wants to ensure that Colorado and the United States remain for the people.

“This is a government for the people, by the people … nobody ever said this is a government for the corporations.”

Sen. Carroll explained that because the secretary of state is in charge of the voting, lobbyist and campaign finance systems, it is important that the office remains as nonpartisan as possible. As a result, she said that responsibility should not be handed over to Gessler, who she called “a hard-core partisan” who had actively worked against 527 disclosure in the past. She said that greatly concerned her.

Gessler said that Carroll referring to him as a “hard-core partisan” was a case of “the pot calling the kettle black. She is a hyper-partisan person,” Gessler said. Gessler is no stranger to labeling other partisan. He called Buescher “a very partisan guy” recently when speaking to the conservative-leaning publication Face the State.

While generally supportive of the concept of disclosure, Gessler said there is a fine line that can be drawn where small 527 groups and other organizations are concerned. He said often partisan legislators use disclosure laws to punish individuals who donate to issues or groups that a legislator might disagree with. He said he has argued that disclosure was not appropriate in some cases.

“The problem is that people in power … use the disclosure reports to target retribution, if they support their opponents and what not. I think that stuff goes on … but nobody wants to talk about that,” Gessler said.

Gessler said it was often the small 527s who ultimately would be affected by legislation because they did not have the money to hire individuals to navigate disclosure laws.

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