Group admits violation of campaign law

An outside campaign group has admitted to a violation in a Garfield County Commission race, but an advocacy organization says weak state laws and enforcement make it unlikely that some political-spending mysteries surrounding last fall’s election can be solved.

The Aurora-based Colorado League of Taxpayers this week admitted to violating campaign finance laws by failing to file an electioneering communication report last fall. Colorado Ethics
Watch had complained to the Secretary of State’s Office about the violation, which pertained to the group’s mailings criticizing Democratic commissioner candidate Steve Carter.

The group, set up by Republican activist Scott Shires, also revealed it spent about $2,400 for the mailings. At $50 for each day the report has been delinquent, the organization faces a possible maximum fine that could top $9,750.

The same group was fined a total of $650 last year for the same campaign violation and a second one in a Weld County case.

Two Garfield commissioner races last year saw an emergence of independent campaign spending by oil and gas, environmental and other outside interests, and the sources of some spending remain unidentified.

Carter lost to Republican Mike Samson. Fellow Democrat Stephen Bershenyi lost to Republican incumbent John Martin.

Carter and Bershenyi were the targets of several critical ad campaigns, including a fake newspaper mailed out days before the election. Carter said he thinks the maximum allowable penalty against the Colorado League of Taxpayers should be higher, considering there’s no way to undo election results.

Luis Toro, senior counsel for Colorado Ethics Watch, said he’s concerned about spending when the sources aren’t disclosed.  A group called Small Town Values spent $7,250 apiece in support of Samson and Martin but doesn’t have to reveal the sources of its money because it formed as a 501(c)(4) rather than 527 organization. Toro said he would like to see that reporting loophole closed after it was exploited in the Garfield races and Colorado’s U.S. Senate race last year.

He also wants to require the state, rather than private parties, to initiate investigations of possible campaign violations. Toro said private parties don’t have the investigative powers sometimes needed to gather enough evidence to file complaints.

His group has not been able to determine who was behind the fake newspaper mailing. Requiring mailings to identify the groups behind them also would help, he said.

Secretary of State’s Office spokesman Richard Coolidge said such changes would require legislative action or a state constitutional amendment, and in some cases would be further complicated by federal laws.


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