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Following the Money in Politics Might Get Tougher in Colorado

PHOTO: After $3.77 billion was spent on political ads in the last midterm elections, legislation that passed the Colorado Senate to shield small donors from scrutiny, and a recently approved super-PAC, are coming under fire from watchdog groups. Photo credit: Jericho/Wikimedia Commons
PHOTO: After $3.77 billion was spent on political ads in the last midterm elections, legislation that passed the Colorado Senate to shield small donors from scrutiny, and a recently approved super-PAC, are coming under fire from watchdog groups. Photo credit: Jericho/Wikimedia Commons
February 25, 2015

DENVER - Following the money in politics might become harder in Colorado. On Tuesday, the state Senate approved a bill critics claim would make political donations less transparent.

Its backers say smaller groups shouldn't be subject to the same filing requirements as larger advocacy groups, but Colorado Ethics Watch opposes Senate Bill 61 and also is taking aim at a Republican-run super-PAC.

Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call told the Durango Herald that the super-PAC is legitimate because there's no coordination between the party and candidates. Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch disagreed.

"The issue is not whether the committee is coordinating with candidates," he said. "The issue is whether it's part of the political party - and it is. This is a way to make an end run around constitutional limits on contributions to political parties."

The super-PAC's former director, Tyler Harbor, recently pleaded guilty to coordinating campaign spending between a political action committee and a congressional candidate in Virginia. Call said there's "zero chance" of that happening in Colorado, because of what he calls the party's strict safeguards and oversight.

A recent District Court ruling approved the Republican super-PAC. Toro said Colorado Ethics Watch is pressing forward with its appeal of that ruling, although he acknowledges it's unlikely the super-PAC did anything wrong in Colorado during the 2014 election.

"But the situation with Tyler Harber does show the danger of allowing political parties to run these so-called 'independent' committees that might actually be coordinating with candidates," Toro said.

A new analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics confirmed that 2014 was the most expensive midterm election in U.S. history, costing more than $3.5 billion, and that spending by outside groups such as super-PACS was a larger chunk of the total cost than ever before.

The CRP report is online at opensecrets.org. The text of Senate Bill 61 is at legiscan.com.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO