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Colorado candidates will get a chance to fix errors on campaign filings

Author: Dan Njegomir - May 26, 2017 - Updated: June 6, 2017

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Lynn Bartels at the Secretary of State’s Office blogs about an obscure but far-reaching campaign-finance reform signed into law this week by Gov. John Hickenlooper, giving candidates for office “… a chance to correct errors on campaign-finance reports and avoid what could be absurd fines.”

As we’ve noted before, the bipartisan House Bill 1155 aims to curb the abuse of a provision in the state’s campaign-finance rules that relies on the general public to file complaints and prosecute alleged violations by candidates in their periodic finance disclosures to the state. Pols and their operatives looking to manipulate that system file pretextual “gotcha” complaints over trivial, overlooked clerical errors in the campaign disclosures of opposing candidates and groups covered by the campaign law.

Such complaints are often filed at the last possible moment, which runs up the fines and legal fees the targets must fork over. The law has no screening process; all complaints must be turned over without review to the Office of Administrative Courts to sort out.

Bartels explains how HB 1155 would tackle the problem:

Under current law, when elected officials make a mistake, they can incur a $50-a-day fine for each error in a report for up to as many as 180 days. The measure gives candidates 15 days to fix an error after being notified of a complaint.

“It’s encouraging candidates to go ahead and fix those issues,” Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert said when she testified in favor of the bill before a House committee in March.

No penalty will be assessed during the grace period so long as it is demonstrated to the satisfaction of an administrative law judge that a good-faith effort had been made to comply with disclosure requirements in the first place or that substantial compliance had occurred.

It’s a seemingly simple fix that could cure a big headache. Instead of hauling candidates through protracted and costly court proceedings, they first will be able to hit backspace on minor flaws in their disclosures, filling in the blanks for the public to see. In other words, greater transparency. Which would seem to have been the whole point of Colorado’s sweeping campaign-finance reform adopted by voters in 2002.

As we also noted before, the legislation promises to make it less likely Colorado’s strict campaign-finance rules will be gamed as they now are by political operatives who use the system to sling mud and take cheap shots at rival candidates and political groups. That could translate to fewer of those glossy campaign mailers accusing candidates of “running a dark-money campaign” and “breaking the law” — when in fact a campaign volunteer who had logged a $75 donation simply forgot to include the contributor’s occupation.

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.