DENVER - Corporations that want to spend money on Colorado elections might soon face tighter requirements for telling
the public about their campaign activities.
Gov. Bill Ritter and Secretary of State Bernie Buescher are backing the effort, which they said would be introduced in
the Legislature this year. It's a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January that said corporations have the
First Amendment right to spend freely on elections.
Colorado Common Cause, which backed the state's campaign-finance law, agrees with the effort to require companies and
unions to disclose their campaign expenses, said the group's executive director, Jenny Flanagan.
That's a thing the Legislature needs to act quickly on this year, to make sure voters are informed," Flanagan
The Colorado Supreme Court confirmed Monday that Colorado's campaign-finance law is out of line with the U.S. Supreme
Court ruling. The federal case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, resulted in a ruling that allows
corporations and labor unions to spend their own money to directly call for the election of a candidate.
Ritter had asked the state Supreme Court for an opinion on Colorado's campaign-finance law, and he expected the answer
he received Monday: Parts of it are unconstitutional.
Colorado is one of 24 states that are affected by the Citizens United case, according to the National Conference of
Coloradans will have to wait until summer to see if the decision causes a flood of corporate money in the state's
elections, Ritter said.
We won't know the practical effect of the decision until the height of the campaign season," he said.
Meanwhile, Republicans are still thinking about suing the state to overturn parts of its campaign-finance law. They
haven't decided whether to file the lawsuit, said Richard Westfall, a lawyer who is involved in the effort.
The lawsuit might not be needed, even though Colorado's Constitution still forbids corporate and union spending on
As a practical matter, those provisions are unenforceable," Westfall said.
In 2002, Colorado voters adopted a constitutional amendment that, among other things, forbade corporations or unions
from advocating directly for a candidate. Because it outlawed corporate campaigning, Colorado's law says nothing about
when corporations or unions have to disclose their election expenses.
Ritter and Buescher want to enact a law to require disclosures. Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, and Rep. Paul Weissmann,D-Louisville, will carry the bill, which has not yet been introduced.
The U.S. Supreme Court case does not affect Colorado's strict donation limits, lawyers on both sides said Tuesday. The
Colorado Constitution limits individual donations to a candidate for the Legislature to $400, and to a candidate for
statewide office to $1,050.
In reality, corporate and union money has found its way into elections through issue committees" that advertise in
connection with an election but never call specifically for a candidate to be elected or defeated.
Those committees - called 527s or 501(c)4s, after sections of the federal tax code - do not always disclose their
donors. Buescher wants to change that with his proposed legislation.
It's possible the bill could go even further. Weissmann wants to forbid corporations from spending on elections unless
shareholders approve. Buescher is also interested in that approach, although he thinks it's too complicated to finish
before the Legislature adjourns in seven weeks.
I think to do that right would take more time than there is in the Legislature this year," Buescher said.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court decision seems to invite laws that require shareholder approval before corporations can
get involved in campaigns, Buescher said.