Lesiglators want scrutiny of campaign finance | VailDaily.com

Lesiglators want scrutiny of campaign finance

Steven Paulson
Vail CO, Colorado

DENVER (AP) ” Legislators are hoping one of the toughest laws in the nation requiring political organizations to disclose their contributions and spending will cut down on some of the anonymous bombast in campaign ads, but they’re not under any illusions.

“When you build a better mousetrap, they build a better mouse,” said Sen. Ron Tupa, D-Boulder, who sponsored the Clean Campaign Act of 2007.

The law is one of dozens that go into effect in Colorado on July 1. Others include a law requiring juveniles on motorcycles to wear helmets and another that requires schools offering sex education to teach courses based on scientific research and include instruction on the health benefits and possible side effects of contraception.

Tupa said campaign finance reform was high on his list of priorities this year because of questionable and misleading campaign ads last year by so-called 527 groups that do not have to identify their sponsors.

A study last year by the Center for Public Integrity in Washington determined that a dozen 527 committees had been set up in Colorado since 2000. The groups reported receiving $4.3 million in contributions and spending $3.3 million on political campaigns over the six-year period.

A survey by The Rocky Mountain News determined that from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31 last year, Democratic 527 groups had raised $10.8 million, compared with $6.4 million for Republicans, for last year’s elections.

The Reform Institute, a lobbying organization in Washington pushing campaign reform, said Colorado’s new law is one of the toughest in the nation. Only West Virginia has passed similar legislation, the institute said.

Peggy Kerns, director of the Center for Ethics in Government, National Conference of State Legislatures, said it’s a novel approach to an issue that has sparked nationwide debate.

“Colorado is probably in the forefront on this,” she said after the law passed.

Rep. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, the bill’s House sponsor, said that federally regulated campaign groups operating under federal tax laws in Colorado should follow the same reporting rules as state regulated groups for state offices and state issues that are registered with the Secretary of State.

Named after a section of federal tax code that regulates their actions, 527 groups can raise unlimited amounts of money. Unlike other campaign groups that have to report all donations and expenses, 527s have to report only some information about some expenses and donations leading up to an election.

Tupa said the new law closes loopholes that allowed committees that collected less than $25,000 to escape reporting requirements, with no limit on contributions or the number of committees individual groups could form.

Previously, groups could give money to other 527s, which only had to report every three months. That allowed people to shift money and evade reporting until after an election by waiting until the end of a reporting period and then giving money to another anonymous group with the same mission.

The new law requires all committees to identify where they receive most of their money and how it is spent. There is a $20 limit on reporting.

John Willard, a political consultant who worked for Clear Peak Colorado last year, a 527 set up by Democrats to counter the Republican 527 Trailhead, said there was a lot of money-swapping going on among political organizations last year and that his group never did find out where Trailhead got all of its money. He said Trailhead registered in Delaware to avoid reporting in Colorado.

Carroll said the Trailhead Group made two automated calls into her district accusing her of taking secret payments, charges she called slanderous.

“These automated calls have been increasingly used as a relatively cheap smear tactic without any regard for truth or accuracy and provides a one-sided, captive forum to disseminate lies to the public,” she told constituents.

Trailhead, now defunct, accused Democrats of violating state law by trying to evade reporting requirements.

Willard said there are still loopholes in the new law that could allow political groups to claim they are corporations and still avoid disclosure. But he said that will hurt their relationships with voters by fostering distrust.

“We always filed everything in Colorado. We felt it was critical for voter trust to have open disclosure,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, D-Denver, said he sponsored the juvenile helmet bill because too many children were suffering head injuries. It barely passed because of opposition from motorcycle groups. Adults aren’t required to wear helmets.

“This bill will save some lives,” Gordon said.

Teaching abstinence-only sex education courses will be barred in all but one Colorado school district under a new law that requires schools to teach courses based on scientific research and include instruction on the health benefits and possible side effects of contraception.

Those courses can still include discussion of abstinence, but the other topics must be touched on as well.

The school district in the San Luis Valley town of Center would be able to continue teaching its abstinence-only course so it won’t lose a federal grant.

Rep. Debbie Stafford, R-Aurora, added sexual contact with animals to the state’s animal cruelty statutes, saying it harms animals.

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