Ethics Watch and Common Cause file complaint against SOS rule rewrite
Today, Colorado Ethics Watch and Colorado Common Cause filed a complaint in Denver District Court against Secretary of State Scott Gessler, asserting that Gessler unlawfully weakened Colorado campaign finance laws through the Secretary of State’s rulemaking process. The Secretary of State does not have authority to change state law, and therefore Ethics Watch and Common Cause have asked the court to invalidate the Secretary of State’s rules that contradict statutes or the state Constitution.
A similar suit filed by the two groups in 2011 resulted in a court order rejecting Gessler’s attempt to weaken disclosure laws regarding ballot initiative campaigns. Gessler also withdrew a rule that would greatly reduce disclosure requirements before primary elections after Ethics Watch filed suit last year and the General Assembly’s Committee on Legal Services voted to reject that rule as beyond the Secretary’s authority.
Today’s suit challenges a complete overhaul of Colorado campaign finance regulations that went into effect March 7. The new rules, if left intact, would limit electioneering communication reporting requirements, effectively repeal Colorado’s 527 reporting statute by narrowing the definition of a 527 organization subject to reporting so that practically no 527s operating in Colorado would be required to disclose their activities, permit corporations or other groups to avoid disclosure until they reach new annual thresholds of 30% of total spending for issue campaigns and “a majority” of total spending for candidate campaigns, and cap penalties for failure to disclose major contributor information in the final month before an election.
“Secretary Gessler appears not to have gotten the message that both the court and the legislature have already sent: his job is to enforce the laws on the books, not rewrite them to his liking in an election year,” said Luis Toro, Director of Colorado Ethics Watch. “We are confident that the result in this case will be no different from what has happened before. Unfortunately, the State of Colorado will spend a great deal of public money attempting to defend the indefensible.”
“Coloradans fought for the right to know who is spending money to influence their votes,” concluded Elena Nunez, Executive Director of Colorado Common Cause. “As we approach an election expected to have record spending, Secretary Gessler’s rules rewrite will leave Coloradans in the dark.”