Denver District Court Strikes Down Gessler Rule Changes
Denver – Yesterday, Denver District Court Judge J. Eric Elliff struck down several changes to campaign finance rules adopted in February by Secretary of State Scott Gessler. The Court agreed with Colorado Ethics Watch, Colorado Common Cause and a separate group of challengers led by David Paladino that the Secretary exceeded his administrative authority by enacting rules that would excuse most 527s from any disclosure requirements, reduce disclosure by issue committees and state PACs and reduce penalties for failure to report large contributions.
“The winners are the people of Colorado,” said Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro. “Thanks to this ruling, voters will have better information about who is spending money to influence state elections, including important ballot initiatives and state House and Senate races. Hopefully the Secretary of State will finally get the message and stop his unlawful overreaching.”
“Coloradans want to know who is spending money to influence their votes,” commented Elena Nunez, Executive Director of Colorado Common Cause. “We are pleased that the court blocked the Secretary of State’s attempt to rewrite the law to create less transparency in elections.”
Ethics Watch and Common Cause filed a lawsuit challenging the rule changes in April. The case was consolidated with a second lawsuit filed by a group headed by David Paladino. Both sets of challengers argued that Gessler exceeded his authority by enacting rules that effectively amended the Colorado constitution or campaign finance laws passed by the General Assembly. In his decision, Judge Elliff agreed with the challengers that Gessler overstepped his authority on five occasions, upholding only one rule on electioneering communications on the ground that it was substantially similar to the pre-existing rule.
This is just the latest setback for Secretary Gessler’s rulemaking efforts. In September 2011, a different Denver District Court judge rejected Gessler’s attempt to raise the reporting threshold for ballot issue committees from $200 to $5000. In December 2011, Secretary Gessler withdrew a rule change that would have excused candidates from filing biweekly reports before a primary election, after Ethics Watch filed suit against the rule and a bipartisan legislative committee voted to reject the rule.