Secretary of state turns to Colorado legislature after court ruling

The Secretary of State's is looking for a legislative solution to a campaign finance ruling.
The Secretary of State’s is looking for a legislative solution to a campaign finance ruling.

UPDATE: The Denver Post’s editorial board weighed in the problem.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office will ask for legislative help on a campaign finance issue after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals refused its request to “execute us or set us free.”

In two separate rulings, the most recent one last week, the court has concluded that Colorado’s regulatory framework for setting up what is known as an issue committee is so cumbersome it violates free speech and is unconstitutional. But the rulings — which cover activities under four secretaries of state — apply only in the context of the two cases that were filed.

“The secretary is better served seeking help from the institution best equipped in our governmental system to solve the problem – the Colorado legislature,” the three-member panel of judges wrote in its March 2 decision.

Voters in 2002 approved a constitutional amendment that set the contribution-and-expenditure threshold for issue committees at $200. An issue committee is any group of two or more people formed to support or oppose a measure that has collected or spent more than $200 in its effort.

One legislative proposal under discussion would still require issue committees to register with the Secretary of State once $200 had been raised, but detailed reporting wouldn’t kick in until $5,000 is raised.

“The devil’s in the details,” Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, said, when asked what his group thought of the suggestion.

The most recent court case involves the Coalition for Secular Government, which formed to advocate against various statewide “personhood” issues on the ballot that critics said would ban abortion. Its activities triggered issue-committee reporting requirements under Colorado law, and the group was fined for not filing timely reports.

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Secretary of State Wayne Williams outlines agency’s goals, achievements at SMART act hearing

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, second from left, tells lawmakers from the House and Senate State Affairs committees about the agency's operation. With him are Tim Griesmer, Chief of Staff Gary Zimmerman and Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, second from left, tells lawmakers from the House and Senate State Affairs committees about the agency’s operation. With him are legislative director Tim Griesmer, Chief of Staff Gary Zimmerman and Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams told lawmakers Tuesday that when he took office in January he inherited a cutting-edge operation that other states are looking to emulate.

He credited previous secretaries of state — Williams is the sixth person in 10 years to hold the office — for the staffers they hired and the programs they instituted for creating an operation that has won several prestigious awards.

The awards are nice, Williams said, but said “the real goal is serving the people of Colorado.”

Read moreSecretary of State Wayne Williams outlines agency’s goals, achievements at SMART act hearing