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Marianne GoodlandOctober 5, 20178min6700

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.


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Adam McCoyAdam McCoySeptember 11, 20173min5290

The opening salvo in the court fray over a Lakewood ballot initiative aimed at curtailing city growth turned into a six-hour marathon hearing late last week.

The Lakewood Sentinel’s Clarke Reader detailed the second day of administrative hearings which dragged on over half a dozen hours on Thursday and took testimony from 44 “petitioners, circulators and notaries, about the process leading to getting enough signatures to put the initiative before city council or on the ballot in November.”

The court battle started after citizens group Lakewood Neighborhood Partnerships (LNP) canvassed the city, gathering petition signatures in support of a 1 percent annual limit on residential growth. The group’s proposal would also establish a permit system, requiring City Council approval for all projects of 40 units or more while lifting permit requirements for redevelopment of existing units in “blighted or distressed areas.”

The group submitted the required number of petition signatures to the city, and the City Council was set to consider pushing the initiative to the ballot but had to delay action due to a legal challenge.

That formal protest was from Lakewood resident and Vice Chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party Steve Dorman, contending the ballot initiative lacks an “adequate description.”

On Thursday, counsel for both sides — Dennis Polk for Dorman and former Secretary of State Scott Gessler for LNP board members — gave arguments centered on the validity of petition signatures, Reader reported. Polk argued that signatures were not submitted in accordance with city election law.

His point was that the bulk of the circulators’ affidavits were not signed and submitted under oath. Since the affidavits did not include language stating the circulators took an oath when they turned in the signatures, those petitions and signatures are not valid.

Countering that argument, Gessler argued that the act of signing was an affirmation of the validity of signatures, and that not making customers swear an official oath is common practice for notaries.



Rachael WrightRachael WrightJune 15, 20178min62
Thirty Years Ago this Week in The Colorado Statesman … On election night, 1987, incumbent Mayor Federico Peña went on to capture 79,674 votes for 51 percent of the total vote compared to challenger Don Bain’s 49 percent. The highlight (or lowlight) of the evening, was Peña’s sweltering downtown headquarters where 1,000 people crammed into […]

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Peter MarcusPeter MarcusMarch 2, 20176min74
The Colorado Court of Appeals on Thursday sent a case back to a lower court that could leave future funding for state and local elections in jeopardy. The case, filed by the National Federation of Independent Business, claims that businesses carry an unfair burden of the cost of funding state and county elections. The business group […]

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Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJanuary 24, 20177min67
A suit before the Colorado Court of Appeals today sought to reclaim revenue the state now uses to pay for its elections — leaving its future funding in question. The case, filed by the National Federation of Independent Business, claims that businesses carry an unfair burden of the cost of funding the state’s elections, including costs carried […]

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Colorado PoliticsColorado PoliticsDecember 12, 201619min780

DENVER — A state representative going to jail during the holidays? For the first time in decades ... Oh my! Wasn't there something about this in the Book of Revelations? Goodness. Good morning, and happy Monday. We guess it's happy. But it's sort of just a cold Monday. Stop it, stop it. Positive thoughts! HAPPY MONDAY! And positive vibes sent to all of you out there fighting through traffic or through your massive inbox pile stacked to the roof from inside your dreadful little cubicles. Only 29 days until the first day of school ... we mean legislative session, class! Good grief, there we go with the negative vibes again. Sorry.