House votes for disclosure of independent spending on ads touting political parties

This story first appeared on the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition website

The Colorado House voted Monday to require independent groups and individuals to disclose expenditures when they buy ads, billboards and mailings that mention only political parties.

Disclosure currently is required when such communications mention candidates, but not when they generally suggest that you support Democrats or Republicans.

Under HB 16-1434, which was sent to the Senate on a 34-31 vote, any entity spending $1,000 or more on this type of communication within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election would have to file a report with the Colorado Secretary of State.

Such ads also would have to include “paid for by” disclaimers. And if they are produced in coordination with a political party, the party must also report the spending.

The bill was introduced by Democratic Reps. KC Becker of Boulder and Daniel Kagan of Cherry Hills Village.

“This bill requires the same disclosures for party-oriented campaign communications as for ads about individual candidates,” Becker said. “As voters, we should be able to get information about who is spending big money to influence our vote.”

In testimony earlier this month before the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, Peg Perl of Colorado Ethics Watch said HB 16-1434 would “close a loophole before it expands further into a pathway for millions of more dollars to pour into Colorado elections while hidden from public disclosure.”

Ads touting parties “currently exist in a no-man’s land outside the disclosure system,” said Perl, Ethics Watch senior counsel, “and Colorado voters have no access to information about who runs them or how much they’ve spent.”

In the committee hearing, Rep. Cole Wist, R-Centennial, questioned whether the bill violates a citizen’s right to free speech “and to exercise that right in whatever manner they see fit, whether it involves spending money or standing on a street corner speaking.”

Two other campaign-finance bills also moved forward Monday.

The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee approved HB 16-1282, which would align campaign finance disclosures in school board elections with those of other races in Colorado. Prompted in part by untraceable spending from outside groups in recent Denver metro races, the bill requires pre-election disclosure of independent expenditures of more than $1,000 and disclosure of spending on advertisements, billboards and direct mailings.

The Senate state affairs committee also endorsed SB 16-186, which temporarily sets disclosure requirements for small-scale committees that support or oppose ballot issues. The limits are to be repealed in 2019 because of a pending federal court case.

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Photo credit: khrawlings, Creative Commons, Flickr