Colorado Supreme Court Opinions

January 29, 2018

2018 CO 6. No. 16SC637. Coloradans for a Better Future v. Campaign Integrity Watchdog.

Election Law—Disclosure.

A lawyer filed a report for Coloradans for a Better Future (Better Future), a political organization, without charging a fee. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ determination that Better Future was required to report the donated legal service as a “contribution” under Colorado’s campaign-finance laws. The constitutional definition of “contribution” does not address political organizations, and neither part of the statutory definition relied on by the Court of Appeals covers legal services donated to political organizations. CRS § 1-45-103(6)(b) does not apply to political organizations, and the word “gift” in CRS § 1-45-103(6)(c)(I) does not include gifts of service.

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2018 CO 7. No. 17SC149. Campaign Integrity Watchdog v. Alliance for a Safe and Independent Woodmen Hills.

 Election Law—Constitutional Law—Political Speech.

The Supreme Court held that a political committee must report payments to a law firm for its legal defense as contributions, but not as expenditures. “[E]xpenditures . . . and obligations” under CRS § 1-45-108(1)(a)(I) are limited to payments and obligations for expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate; payments for legal defense are not for express electoral advocacy. But, pursuant to Colo. Const. art. XXVIII, § 2(5)(a)(II), payments to a third-party law firm for a political committee’s legal defense count as reportable contributions because they are payments “made to a third party for the benefit of any . . . political committee.”

The Court reversed the administrative law judge’s determination that the contribution-reporting requirement is unconstitutional as applied to Alliance for a Safe and Independent Woodmen Hills (Alliance). Under Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 61–68 (1976), for political committees like Alliance whose major purpose is influencing elections, the governmental interests in political transparency and preventing corruption justify the First Amendment burdens of reporting and disclosure. It makes little difference that the payments here were made post-election and for legal defense; elections are cyclical and money is fungible.

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