Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandJanuary 29, 201810min432
The state’s Independent Ethics Commission has decided to write its own rules about how and whether it is subject to the state’s open records law, and that’s drawing pushback from the Colorado Press Association, the Colorado Broadcasters Association, the Secretary of State’s Office and other open records advocates. The commission, in court challenges to its […]

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Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandOctober 5, 20178min1173

Colorado Ethics Watch, the left-leaning ethics advocacy group that has spent the last decade making sure Colorado’s campaign finance and ethics laws are followed, announced Thursday it will cease operations at the end of 2017.

The shutdown is a financial matter, said Colorado Ethics Watch Executive Director Luis Toro. “It’s harder for us to justify our existence now that citizens can file their own complaints,” he told Colorado Politics. He also cited the national political atmosphere over ethics, stating the attention being paid to President Trump and his ethics issues leaves little room for ethics concerns at the state level.

Attorney Chantell Taylor started Ethics Watch in August 2006, just three months before Colorado voters adopted Amendment 41, the constitutional amendment that dictates ethics rules for elected officials. In 2008, Toro joined Ethics Watch; he became its executive director in 2010.

At the time Ethics Watch was started, Toro said, “if we didn’t file the [campaign finance] complaint, no one would.” That’s a model that Toro said has worked well until the last few years, when citizens started filing their own complaints, both on campaign finance and on ethics.

Toro said he’s most proud of the work Ethics Watch did in forcing then-Secretary of State Scott Gessler to adhere to the state constitution on campaign finance. Ethics Watch filed two lawsuits against Gessler, whom Toro said wanted to rewrite campaign finance laws. Such actions have also led to complaints from Republicans that Ethics Watch only files complaints against Republicans.

In 2011, Gessler attempted to change the rules about when an issue committee, which advocates for or against ballot issues, had to report its contributions and expenditures. The threshold established under a voter-approved campaign finance amendment in 2002 set that minimum at $200; Gessler wanted to raise it to $5,000. Gessler claimed that a previous court decision form 2010 had created ambiguity about the threshold that only the Secretary of State could fix through rulemaking.

Ethics Watch and Colorado Common Cause sued, and the Colorado Court of Appeals decided in 2012 that Gessler’s rule on the threshold violated the state campaign finance amendment, which set a clear $200 minimum. The Court was not persuaded by Gessler’s argument that the 2010 decision had created a “gap” in campaign finance law.

The second case, decided in 2013, also dealt with campaign finance, this time with “electioneering communications,” defined as information put out by issue and political committees in the 60 days before an election.

Also in 2011, Gessler created another set of rules dealing with electioneering communcations. Ethics Watch, Common Cause and other plaintiffs claimed the rules narrowed the definition of electioneering communications and that would allow groups to make those communications without full disclosure. Another rule, also dealing with issue committee contributions, would allow those committees to avoid disclosure if the campaign expenditures were 30% or less of the organization’s total spending.

A Denver District Court opinion called the latter “further mischief in that it appears not  to be income neutral. In other words, issue committees with very little income, which presumably spend most of that income on election­-related matters, will be required to report. But large corporations or wealthy individuals could spend substantial sums of money on issues and yet not have to report because they are spending less than 30% of their revenue on these  activities. Certainly this is contrary to the intent of the electorate, which has expressed an  interest in compelling more disclosure, not less.”

In 2013, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled substantially in favor of Ethics Watch and several other plaintiffs on the lawsuit.

Ethics Watch staff have also been a regular presence at hearings of the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission since its early days. Ethics Watch sued the commission two years ago, after filing an ethics complaint against an Elbert County Commissioner who had persuaded fellow commissioners to rule on an issue in which he had a financial interest.

In that case, Elbert County commissioners were found in violation of the state’s campaign finance law over a town hall they hosted. A consultant hired by the county advocated for a ballot measure to increase the county’s property taxes, revenue needed to shore up the county’s flailing budget. An administrative law judge ruled the commission, in paying for the town hall, had taken a position on the ballot question, a violation of the state’s campaign finance laws. The judge ordered the commission chair, Robert Rowland, to personally pay a $1,000 fine because he had authorized the illegal expenditure. Rowland was ordered to pay the fine himself because the judge said he did not want the cash-strapped county to pay the fine.

The commissioners decided to appeal the decision on a 2-1 vote that if not for Rowland’s support would have failed. Rowland paid the fine, but on the same day filed a voucher with the county to be reimbursed. He signed off on the voucher as chair of the commission; he also signed his own reimbursement check, also in his position as chair. Rowland finally paid the fine after his actions to recoup his money were reported by The Colorado Independent. The county wound up paying $21,000 in attorney fees to a private citizen who filed the original campaign finance complaint.

Colorado Ethics Watch filed an ethics complaint against Rowland, claiming he had voted on a matter in which he had a financial interest, an alleged violation of Amendment 41. The ethics commission dismissed the complaint on a 3-2 vote as frivolous. Ethics Watch then sued the commission, asking whether the public has the right to a judge’s review of ethics commission decisions. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favor of the ethics commission, making the commission’s decisions unappealable.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirSeptember 28, 20173min731

A lot of voters may not have a clue how much money is raised and spent in their local school board races. Plenty of those voters also may not know where all that campaign cash comes from in the first place.

It isn’t necessarily for lack of interest so much as a lack of knowledge about how to follow the money. And there certainly can be a lot of money to follow, at least, in competitive races in Colorado’s largest school districts. School board races this November in Denver, Jefferson County and Douglas County, among other places, are all promising to be hotly contested and well-funded.

Which is why the Denver League of Women Voters is hosting a public briefing on the subject — sort of a how-to session to enlighten the public on the basics of school board election finance. As a league press release this week informs us, topics will include, “outside spending, contributions to candidates and disclosures.”

Here’s more from the press release:

School board races are notoriously ignored by many, especially those who do not have children in school.

Monday, October 16, at 5:30 p.m. at Montview Presbyterian Church (in Denver), the League of Women Voters of Denver will hold a public briefing on the funding of school board campaigns. Few people know that there are no campaign limits for school board elections in Colorado, nor do they really know who is funding these campaigns. This information applies not only to the city of Denver but to all school board races in Colorado.

The guest speaker — attorney and all-round election-finance expert Peg Perl, formerly of public watchdog Colorado Ethics Watch (and candidate for Denver clerk and recorder) — will take to the podium and dish out her considerable knowledge base.

Here are more particulars:

Where:  Montview Presbyterian Church, 1980 Dahlia Street, McCollum Room

When:  Monday, October 16, 2017. Coffee and networking will start at 5:30 pm with the presentation itself at 6 p.m.


Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 31, 201710min389
An ethics complaint lodged against a former Glendale city councilman has turned into a can of worms for the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission over whether home-rule cities that have their own ethics codes have the final say over ethics complaints. The ethics issue dates back to 2016, when MAK Investment Group of Glendale filed an […]

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Adam McCoyAdam McCoyAugust 14, 20173min485

If money could talk, its voice would arguably be deafening in politics. In the interest of added transparency for money in municipal elections, Denver election officials have proposed some changes to the city’s campaign finance rules.

The proposed revisions to campaign contribution regulations in local politics would refine and add some key terms in its law; establish a structure for reporting campaign ads (TV, radio, etc.) from candidates or outside groups and, for the first time in Denver, institute fines for candidates who fail to file campaign finance reports on time, city Director of Elections Amber McReynolds said. The changes are expected to be rolled out for the 2019 election cycle.

McReynolds said a discussion about modernizing city campaign finance rules started after the 2015 municipal election cycle. Nonpartisan watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch, the Mayor’s Office, City Council members and the city auditor, among others, collaborated on the changes.  

There has been occasional confusion among candidates regarding campaign finance regulations, McReynolds said. The goal is to make the law as clear as possible.

“We want to make sure the process is fair for the candidates, but also transparent to the public and media,” McReynolds said of the proposed updates.

Under the proposed changes, candidates would be fined $50 for every day they are late in filing campaign finance reports. Per current rules, there is no real accountability for candidates filing late, McReynolds said. Unless an opponent files a complaint over a candidate submitting late, there isn’t a mechanism for election officials to use to compel candidates to file on time.  

The update would also alter filing deadlines and require candidates report contributions more often during non-election years. The platform that candidates use to file reports would be revamped to be more “user-friendly and transparent,” McReynolds said.

“Voters need to have access to that information so they can make an informed decision come election day,” she said.

The proposal will go before the City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee before full City Council consideration.


Joey BunchJoey BunchJuly 28, 20173min508

Marianne Goodland of the Colorado Independent was the first to report Thursday that Peg Perl will run for Denver County clerk and recorder.

Perl hinted at such a move in a chat with Colorado Politics in June, and our Ernest Luning outright predicted she would jump in, if Debra Johnson chose not to seek a third term.

That’s what happened Thursday, so Perl pulled the campaign trigger. She’ll be a formidable candidate with a background in the law, good government advocacy and good political relationships, even with most opponents.

She’s rated as one of the top lawyers in the state, and from 2012 until June, she was the senior counsel for Colorado Ethics Watch, the tenacious government watchdog nonprofit in Denver that many on the right argue is biased for the left.

Perl left to start her own firm and lay the groundwork for a jump into politics, she told us last month.

“I plan to continue to work for modernized campaign spending disclosure and elections, and transparent ethical government responsive to all residents at the state and local level in my new consulting venture,” she said.

Running elections is the office’s highest profile duty, but it also handles marriage licenses, foreclosures and a big mess of records.

Perl has plenty of time to build a campaign. The election isn’t until 2019.

Johnson, 61, said she’s retiring. She was elected in 2011, after serving as city clerk in Aurora.

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 25, 20175min521

Legislation intended to keep federal water flowing to Colorado’s hemp crop — a growing industry in the state, if you’ll forgive the expression — has unexpectedly led to an anonymous accusation that the bill’s sponsor has a conflict of interest. So says a report in the Durango Herald.

Spoiler alert: The law seems to be on the sponsor’s side, as the Herald reports.

Senate Bill 117, adopted by lawmakers in the 2017 session and now awaiting the governor’s signature, was supposed to quell controversy, not cause it. As explained in a press release by the state Senate Republican majority when the bill was approved by the legislature last month, industrial hemp is misunderstood because of its association with marijuana, and that has led to bad policy by the federal government:

After Colorado voters approved hemp’s cultivation as part of a broader legalization of marijuana, questions arose about the legality of using federal reclamation water to grow a  crop often wrongly confused with marijuana.

Montrose Republican state Sen. Don Coram, who introduced the measure, said in the press release that the bill “ensures that Washington can’t deny hemp growers access to water from federal reclamation projects, due to disagreements between Washington and Denver on drug and farm policies.”

Now, the Herald’s Luke Perkins reports Coram is getting called out because he is “affiliated with an industrial hemp production and processing company, Paradox Venture, and could stand to gain from the legislation.” The allegation showed up in the Herald’s mail box in an unsigned letter.

The letter’s author may have it wrong, as Perkins points out:

Coram said he is a founder of Paradox Ventures, a hemp production start-up based in Naturita but doesn’t believe there is a conflict of interest, as the bill does not single out this company or Montrose County.

His position appears to be backed up by a state statute and legislative rules that exempt legislation affecting an entire “class,” in this case industrial hemp growers, from being considered an ethical conflict.

SB 117 affects the whole state and was a response to water rights being withheld from a hemp farmer on the Front Range.

Colorado Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro offered backup today via Twitter:

Be sure to read Perkins’s full report for more background.

And just in case you had lingering doubts, industrial hemp is not about getting high. It’s used in wide-ranging products; here’s a brief primer courtesy of Wikipedia:

(I)ndustrial hempis a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species that…can be refined into a variety of commercial items including paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed.

Although cannabis as a drug and industrial hemp are both members of the species Cannabis sativa and contain the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol… (h)emp has lower concentrations of THC and higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD), which decreases or eliminates its psychoactive effects.