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Colorado campaign finance law could end up in court

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – The fate of Colorado’s campaign finance law could end up being decided in court, and the state’s top election official acknowledges that the law is vulnerable.

Secretary of State Bernie Buescher said Monday that he thinks last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling invalidates two limited parts of Colorado’s Amendment 27 that bars corporations and unions from spending on political advertisements. He also thinks the decisions underlying the court’s decision indicate that the Supreme Court also would be willing to overturn laws limiting how much money people can contribute, as Colorado’s law does.

“It sounds like they’d sure consider it,” Buescher said.

He expects a lawsuit or two to be filed challenging the law, passed by voters in 2002.

No one has announced any plans to do so yet but the Colorado Republican Party, which has long complained that the law gives Democrats an edge, has said it is considering a lawsuit.

Attorney Richard Westfall said he has been talking with Republicans as well as some business groups about whether to file a lawsuit. He believes the decision by Justice Anthony Kennedy leaves the door open to changing other measures that address spending by corporations.

“We’re seeing if there’s a coalition there to bring some kind of challenge,” said Westfall, who was among a group of attorneys from both parties who met with Buescher to talk about the issue Monday.

Jenny Flanagan, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, which helped pass the law, said only the parts of the law specifically addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court should be at issue.

The court’s decision threw out parts of a law that said companies and unions can be barred from using their own money to produce and run campaign ads that promote or target particular candidates by name. Colorado’s law also barred that and Buescher wants lawmakers to ask the state Supreme Court to confirm that that part of the law can no longer be enforced.

However, Colorado’s law also bars corporations and unions from directly donating to a candidate and limits the size of donations. A lawsuit could seek to get those parts overturned as well.

Buescher believes there are still steps Colorado lawmakers can take to limit the new spending allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court. He said they could consider passing legislation requiring corporations to disclose how much money they are spending and move to bar political spending by foreign corporations.

Republican Sen. Greg Brophy, meanwhile, plans to introduced a referred measure asking voters to throw out all the limits in Amendment 27 and just require that candidates report the source of any donations over $1,000.


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