Two-way efforts to clarify how much money nonprofits can be used to support or oppose Colorado’s voting measures before exposing their donors could allow so-called black-money groups to keep their money secret often.
Two nonprofit political organizations that often work against each other in Colorado polling programs – the Liberal-based Bell Policy Center and the Conservative-based Colorance Action Advance – support. Senate Bill 237which unanimously approved the state Senate on Thursday.
The bill, funded by Senate President Steve Fenberg, Boulder Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, Douglas County Republican, will require nonprofit organizations to disclose their sponsors only if their spending is in two or more steps. votes exceed 30% of their total. use more than three years. If they use only one vote, the expenditure cannot exceed 20% of their total expenditure for three years if they want to keep their donors secret.
The current state law requires disclosure if it is identified that supporting or opposing voting measures is the “main goal” of a nonprofit political organization. But the interesting thing is that the law does not say how that should be decided.
“There is a lack of transparency at the moment about what (nonprofits) can do about voting issues,” said Michael Fields, senior consultant for Advance Colorado Action.
Holbert said the idea of the move was to set criteria for the Colorado State Secretary’s Office when it comes to investigating fundraising campaign complaints about nonprofit political organizations, which are often called dark money groups because they generally do not have to disclose. their donors. Organizations are often the target of criticism because of their long portfolios and strong influence in political campaigns.
“This provides clarity about what the government should or should not do,” Holbert said. “I don’t think it allows groups to do anything new or different.”
The bill will go into effect on September 1, but Holbert said the move will not affect any pending complaints or claims surrounding them.
Not everyone is happy with the bill. Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, does not support the move.
“The Office of the Secretary of State does not support this law as it is currently being prepared,” sent Annie Orloff, a spokeswoman for the agency.
But Orloff could not state the office’s objections and neither Griswold nor one of his deputies testified at a Tuesday committee meeting on the 237th Senate Bill.
Complaining campaign funding pending
The move comes as the predecessor of Advance Colorado Action, Unite for Colorado, another non-profit nonprofit organization, is protesting a $ 40,000 fine from the Office of the Minister of State and an order exposing its donors after spending $ 4 million in 2020 supporting or opposing three different votes. plans.
Expenditure ended up being about 23% of the $ 17.2 million that the group spent in 2020, all went for conservative or Republican reasons. The case is being heard by a Denver District Court judge.
Since a bill that seeks to set the disclosure limit to 30% of three years of group spending, it will be rare for non-profit-making organizations in voting programs to establish a requirement to register as an issue committee and disclose donors, for considering a Colorado Sun Examination of the past tax documents of such groups.
Colorado is not the only state that is struggling to determine when the use of nonprofits in politics should disclose where their money comes from, said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a law professor at Stetson University in Florida who specializes in campaign finance.
“Based on how you read the ‘main purpose test,’ it excuses the big political consumers,” he said. “The good thing about having a good line definition is even more clear when the government tries to enforce the law. It puts political activists in Colorado in notice when the disclosure begins and when it does not take place.
But he added that spreading the 30% measure over three years would also facilitate groups seeking disclosure by keeping their spending below the limit.
“Our democracy does not work without good money disclosure in politics,” he said.
Dark money groups spend millions in Colorado
In 2019 and 2020, seven of the 15 main constituents of state color polling stations in Colorado were non-profit organizations. $ 22 million from the seven non-profit organizations accounted for 28% of total spending of $ 78.4 million over a two-year period.
Sometimes such spending led to complaints about campaign finances.
Two national non-profit organizations that often fund free voting measures were the subject of a complaint lodged late last year which was finally rejected because it was not filed within 180 days after the complainants learned of the alleged violations.
The North Fund, one of the main grievances, spent around $ 6.8 million on Colorado’s 2020 voting plans, while the Thirteenth Fund, another group complained, spent $ 5.8 million.
Senate 237 Bill is now moving to the White House, where it also has bilateral funding.
Colorado Sun correspondent Sun correspondent Jesse Paul contributed to this report.