Thursday, December 12, 2013

Court: Gessler can't loosen campaign finance

Posted By on Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 1:02 PM

click to enlarge Scott Gessler
  • Scott Gessler
The  Colorado Court of Appeals has reaffirmed and expanded a previous ruling that rejected looser campaign finance rules enacted  by Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

The  ruling means greater transparency in elections from issue and political committees and 527 organizations.

The controversial Secretary of State — who was also found to have committed an ethics violation for charging the state to pay for his attendance at a partisan conference —  had sought to loosen many rules, based off state law, that allow voters the chance to see who is contributing to election efforts. 

Colorado Ethics Watch executive director Luis Toro, whose group was one of the original plaintiffs in the case, says the ruling restores the transparency called for in the state constitution. He also says the ruling sets boundaries for the next Secretary of State, by showing that the Secretary of State cannot rewrite state law to his liking.

"These decisions have already been made by the voters ... or by the state legislature, and its not for the Secretary of State to say 'I don't like this,'"  Toro says.

Gessler is running for governor, seeking the Republican nomination.

Ethics Watch released the following information about the ruling:

Today, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that several changes to campaign finance disclosure regulations made by Secretary of State Scott Gessler were invalid as exceeding his authority. The Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling that struck down Secretary Gessler’s 2012 rules that reduced or eliminated disclosure requirements for issue committees, political committees, and 527 political organizations, and capped penalties for failure to file major contributor reports in the days before an election.

The Court of Appeals also ruled in favor of Colorado Ethics Watch and Colorado Common Cause on their cross-appeal asking the court to strike down Secretary Gessler’s 2012 rule that narrowed the definition of “electioneering communications,” ads that mention a candidate during the last weeks before a primary or general election without necessarily urging a vote for or against that candidate.

“The Court of Appeals affirmed that the people at the ballot box, and not the Secretary of State through a bureaucratic procedure, make campaign finance policy in Colorado.” said Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro. “Secretary Gessler has consistently attempted to rewrite the law to make it easier to hide political spending from public view, contrary to the wishes of the people. We hope this decision will finally put an end to his overreaching.”

“The Court of Appeals rejected Secretary Gessler’s ongoing attempts to reduce transparency in elections,” commented Elena Nunez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause. “Today’s ruling is a big victory for the people of Colorado, who have made it clear that they want to know who is spending to influence elections.”

Ethics Watch and Common Cause filed a lawsuit challenging the rule changes in April 2012. 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. Denver District Judge J. Eric Elliff overturned all of the challenged rules except the one narrowing the definition of “electioneering communications.” That decision in favor of Secretary Gessler’s rule was the only portion of Judge Elliff’s order that was reversed by the Colorado Court of Appeals.

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