Gov. Hickenlooper signs campaign-finance reform measure into law

Gov. John Hickenlooper signs into law House Bill 1155 concerning campaign finance. Present are, left to right, Rep. Dan Thurlow, R-Grand Junction, Secretary of State Wayne Williams, SOS  legislative liaison Tim Griesmer, Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert, and elections legal manager Ben Schler. (SOS photo)

Military voters will be protected and voter intent honored, candidates will be given a chance to correct errors on campaign-finance reports and avoid what could be absurd fines, and nonprofits will have enhanced ability to raise money under three bills Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law Tuesday.

“We want to establish common-sense processes to ensure that Coloradans can meet the requirements of the law,” said Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams. “Working with legislators from both parties, we improved business, charity, and election procedures during this legislative session.”

Williams said he is pleased that nine of the 11 measures his office advocated for passed the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-led Senate during the 2017 session, which ended earlier this month. So far, seven of the bills have been signed into law — three on Tuesday — and two are awaiting action by the governor’s office.

Among the bills receiving action Tuesday: House Bill 1155, which allows candidates to cure campaign finance reports.

“I love this bill,” said the House sponsor, Rep. Dan Thurlow, R-Grand Junction. “It fixes a problem that led to ‘gotchas.'”

Rep. Dan Thurlow, R-Grand Junction, and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, pose with Scout, the life-sized fiberglass horse, in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s lobby on Tuesday. They were waiting for bills to be signed. (SOS photo)

Under current law, when elected officials make a mistake, they can incur a $50-a-day fine for each error in a report for up to as many as 180 days. The measure gives candidates 15 days to fix an error after being notified of a complaint.

“It’s encouraging candidates to go ahead and fix those issues,” Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert said when she testified in favor of the bill before a House committee in March.

At the same time, Staiert said it would curb “gamesmanship, political posturing” and other motivations for mischief, according to a Colorado Politics story.

Colorado Ethics Watch also testified in favor of the measure.

In addition, Hickenlooper on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 209, which streamlines the review of candidate petitions and allows political campaigns to fix errors in their paperwork. Prior to this law, the secretary of state had no leeway when campaigns made certain administrative errors on petitions.  As a result, candidates who didn’t make the ballot often turned to the courts, where access typically was granted.

Denver District Court Judge Elizabeth Starr pointed out in a 2016 case that courts could make a determination of “substantial compliance,” but the secretary could not. In denying a candidate access to the ballot, she said the secretary of state had “appropriately reviewed the petitions submitted … followed the applicable guidelines.” She allowed the candidate on the ballot.

House Minority Leader Patrick Neville and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams testify on behalf of an elections measure, House Bill 1088, in March. (SOS picture)

“This bill protects military voters by reducing the possibility of incomplete ballot determinations when their ballots are mailed,” Secretary Williams said. “It also modernizes vacancy procedures and ensures that voters’ intent is honored in the event of school board vacancies or candidate withdrawals.”

The House sponsor of the measure, Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, had planned to attend the bill signing but texted the governor’s office to say a traffic accident ahead of him was delaying traffic.

The governor also signed into law a bill concerning bingo and raffles, which are overseen by the secretary of state’s office.

Measures signed into law so far

  • SB 132, recodifies notaries public law, by Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, and Reps. Cole Wist, R-Centennial, and Jovan Melton, D-Aurora
  • SB 152, implements of a voter-approved measure making it harder to amend Colorado’s constitution, by Sen. Louis Court, D-Denver, and Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood
  • SB 209, changes laws governing access to the ballot, by Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson and Rep. Weissman
  • SB 232, adopts recommendations of a sunset report for bingo and raffles, by Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, and Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver
  • SB 305, implements two voter-approved ballot measures impacting unaffiliated voters and primary elections, by Sens. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, and Sen. Fenberg, and Reps. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, and Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock
  • HB 1155, provides the ability to cure campaign financing reporting deficiencies without penalty, by Rep. Thurlow and Sen. Gardner
  • HB 1158, modifies and clarifies laws regarding the registration of charitable entities, by Rep. Hugh McKean, R-Fort Lupton, and Sens. Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton, and Jim Smallwood, R-Parker

Measures awaiting action by the governor

  • HB 1088, outlines process for requiring signature verification for candidate petitions, by Rep. Neville, and Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton
  • SB 40, modernizes Colorado’s open records laws, by Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, and Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver.