Colorado Legislature tightens campaign finance rules

The Colorado Legislature acted quickly and in bipartisan fashion today to require biweekly campaign finance disclosures in advance of this year’s primary elections in June.

In past years, biweekly reporting was required beginning in the July before the primary, with quarterly reporting required before that. Last year, though, the legislature voted to move primaries from August to May but did not change the reporting requirements, thus creating a situation where biweekly reporting would have to begin almost a year before the primary instead of a month prior. That prompted Secretary of State Scott Gessler to implement a rule that eliminated bi-weekly reporting altogether.

Since quarterly reports had been required in the off-years, the SOS office said under current law, candidates would have to file both quarterly and biweekly reports, which the office said was absurd.

At a hearing last summer then-Deputy Secretary of State William Hobbs agreed that it is up to the Legislature to change or clarify the requirements for this year. In the meantime, though, he said the SOS wanted the new rule be adopted on an emergency basis.

That rule, which was adopted by the Secretary of State’s office, eliminated biweekly filing altogether, with quarterly reports filed in the year prior to the election, and then monthly reports being filed during election years.

Attorney Mark Grueskin, representing Citizens for Integrity, said at the time that that would mean a candidate could receive huge amounts of money in the month prior to the primary without having to report it until after the election.

Those opposed to the emergency rule stressed that it was not the Secretary of State’s responsibility to enact rules based on the idea that the Legislature screwed up.

“There is an assumption that the Legislature acts deliberately,” Grueskin said. He said there should be the same assumption when the Legislature chooses not to act.

He said the Secretary of State does not have the luxury of deciding what the Legislature meant to do and then crafting a rule based on what might have been meant. Best to leave the law alone until the Legislature can make itself clear, as needed, in January, he said.

Today, that happened.

The Colorado House of Representatives today passed Senate Bill 12-014, which establishes that biweekly campaign finance reports will be filed for several weeks prior to the primary election. The bill, sponsored by Sens. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, and Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and Reps. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, and Claire Levy, D-Boulder, synchronizes the statutory disclosure schedule with the new June primary date. The bill was signed by Gov. Hickenlooper today, the first bill signed this session.

Ethics Watch filed suit last year in Denver District Court challenging the rule on the grounds that the Secretary of State has no authority to override statutory disclosure requirements. The legislature’s Legal Services Committee voted 8-2 to reject the rule as exceeding the Secretary of State’s authority, leading Gessler to withdraw the rule on December 27. After the rule was withdrawn, Ethics Watch dismissed its lawsuit.

“We congratulate the legislature on its quick, bipartisan action to restore reasonable disclosure rules for the June primary,” said Luis Toro, director of Ethics Watch. “If Secretary of State Gessler had his way, voters would have been in the dark just as fundraising and spending pick up before the primary date. This is a victory for Coloradans from across the political spectrum who believe in the people’s right to know about money in elections.

“This shows there is bipartisan support in Colorado for transparency in campaign finances,” Toro added.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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