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Beware of political contribution limitations

Marianne VirgiliInside BusinessAspen, CO Colorado
Marianne Virgili
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Do you or a relative sit on the board of a corporation or organization that holds one or more government contracts that total $100,000 or more? If so, you could be prohibited from making political contributions. On Nov. 4, Colorados Amendment 54 passed by a very narrow margin. If you didnt read the ballot closely, you probably didnt realize its sweeping impacts on business, medical providers, non-profit entities and labor.This amendment to the Colorado Constitution bans contract holders who do not use a competitive bidding process from making a contribution to a political party or candidate for the duration of the contract and two years after. Government agencies awarding contracts include cities, counties, school districts, special districts anybody that receives a majority of funding from Colorado taxpayers. The amendment also prohibits contributors to ballot issue campaigns from entering into government contracts that are tied to the initiatives they supported.Amendment 54 doesnt apply to federal contracts or elections, but it does apply to state contracts and elections. Under the measure, a contract holder is broadly defined to include the contracting entity, its officers, directors and trustees. In the case of a collective bargaining agreement, a labor organization and any committees created by the organization would be banned from making campaign contributions.As if the amendment wasnt restrictive enough, contract holders are not only prohibited from making a campaign contribution themselves, but so are their family members. The measure broadly defines a family member to include a spouse, child, spouses child, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, stepbrother, stepsister, stepparent, parent-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt, niece, nephew, guardian or domestic partner.For example, the parent-in-law of a board of trustees member for the University of Denver is forbidden from making any contributions to candidates for office anywhere in the state or to political parties in the state.So if you are on the board of directors of a hospital or a local non-profit which holds a sole source government contract, or a business with a government contract, take heed. Isnt this a violation of freedom of speech? Plaintiffs challenging the amendment like the University of Denver, The Childrens Hospital Association, and others think so. So does The Colorado Preservation Council. As the amendment is challenged for being unconstitutional, lets hope that a preliminary injunction halts its enforcement. Clearly, the amendments original goal of transparency is critical but as it stands now, it severely challenges our constitutional rights.As legal proceedings continue, the case is now at issue, and specific deadlines are now in effect. Plaintiffs are hoping the matter will be heard by the district court within the next two months. Elected or appointed officials who accept contributions in violation of Amendment 54 may be removed from office. In addition, any person who intentionally accepts contributions in violation of Section 15, has engaged in corrupt misconduct and is required to pay restitution to the general treasury. Sole source government contractors in violation of Amendment 54 may be disqualified from entering into sole source government contracts or having public employment for three years.Technical guidance regarding reporting requirements can be found at http://www.colorado.gov/dpa/dfp/sco/contracts.htm. Questions related to contributions should be directed to Janice Sinden at Janice@ColoradoConcern.com or (303) 860-1201 (extension 19).

Marianne Virgili is Ppresident and CEO of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.This article is a feature of Inside Business, published Tuesdays in The Aspen Times.


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