The Colorado Republican Party won the campaign finance lottery this week when it got the go ahead to form an independent expenditure committee, or Super PAC, from Second District Court Judge Robert McGahey. The ruling means the party can continue operating CORE, a Super PAC designed to “raise and spend unlimited funds to aid in electing Republican candidates.”
McGahey asserted that, because Colorado state law can be interpreted to include political parties as “persons,” the parties have the right, as individuals do, to set up Super PACs in Colorado.
Nonprofit campaign finance watchdog Ethics Watch intervened in the case, which the state was not actively fighting. Ethics Watch argued that no political party, Republican or Democrat, should be able to set up a Super PAC out of concern that the huge influx in campaign spending might make the candidates themselves beholden to contributors by virtue of needing a party’s endorsement to get their name on the ballot. Ethics Watch pointed to a state constitutional amendment voters passed in 2002 prohibiting both corporations and labor unions from directly supporting candidates or political parties.
In his decision, McGahey avoided the constitutional conflict, instead focusing on state statute and asserting that, as long as the Super PAC is truly “independent” of the party, it’s legal.
Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro said their legal team didn’t buy the argument, though the group has not yet decided if they’ll seek an emergency appeal on the decision.
“When the committee [CORE] is appointed by the party chairman and the point is to spend more money on behalf of the party, we would argue that as mater of law the committee should be considered part of party,” he said.
Toro added that unchallenged, the ruling could establish precedent for any political party in the state to form a Super PAC and will likely trigger a sudden flood of contributions to the now-legal CORE in the last few weeks before the election.
“The only winners today,” Toro concluded, “are those who believe big-money interests don’t have enough say in Colorado politics.”