DENVER Secretary of State Scott Gessler is moving to simplify and loosen the rules for when people who run ballot campaigns have to publicly disclose their finances.
At issue is the right of citizens to know who pays for election campaigns versus the free-speech rights of people who run ballot initiatives.
Activists on the left argued against Gesslers plan and called for tighter rules in a hearing Thursday. People on the right tended to back Gesslers plan, saying that many low-budget campaigns are the victims of legal harassment because they have a hard time following Colorados complex election laws.
I think its a travesty and a mockery of the First Amendment that Colorado citizens are being dragged into court for daring to engage in the political process, said Ari Armstrong, a libertarian activist from Grand Junction.
But state Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, said people who want to run campaigns that persuade others how to vote need to follow the rules of transparency.
Turns out that complying with these things is complicated and does take a lawyer, but thats the price of transparency, Morse said.
Gesslers office will take comments about the proposed rule changes until next Friday, and he will decide on new rules after the comments are in.
He has proposed a comprehensive rewrite of his offices campaign-finance rules. But many of the changes are simply meant to make the rules easier to understand, said Deputy Secretary of State Bill Hobbs.
Other changes would cap maximum fines and would set a clear standard on when people need to register an issue committee with the state.
Hillary Jorgensen of the Colorado Progressive Coalition said she did not like the general direction of the proposed changes.
The one thing we have heard over and over again is voters want more transparency in the process, not less, Jorgensen said.
But some veterans of ballot campaigns praised Gesslers ideas.
Russell Haas called himself a victim of being a proponent of an initiative and said he was forced to defend himself in legal proceedings.
Haas was an official sponsor of 2010s Amendment 61, which would have strictly limited state and local debt. A judge later found that antitax activist Douglas Bruce provided most of the funding and organization for Amendment 61 and two others through his charity, Active Citizens Together.
In a courtroom just a mile away, Bruce was on trial for tax-evasion charges. Prosecutors claim he created ACT to hide his income and promote his ballot campaigns with more than $2 million that moved into and out of Bruces charity.