The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Colorado Ethics Watch, v. Clear the Bench Colorado on March 15, 2012.
Judicial Retention—Election Laws Violation—Issue Committee Versus Political Committee—Colorado Campaign Finance Law—Contribution Limits.
Colorado Ethics Watch brought this action alleging that Clear the Bench Colorado (CTBC), an organization that opposed the retention of the three justices of the Colorado Supreme Court who stood for retention in 2010, violated state election laws by registering as an issue committee rather than as a political committee. The administrative law judge’s holding that CTBC was a political committee was affirmed.
The issue in this appeal was whether a committee that supports or opposes the retention of a justice or judge constitutes an issue committee or a political committee for purposes of Colorado campaign finance law. The distinction is significant primarily because issue committees are not subject to contribution limits and political committees are. An issue committee is one that supports or opposes a ballot issue or ballot question; judicial retention is not a “ballot issue” or “ballot question” for purposes of campaign finance law; therefore, CTBC is not an issue committee. A political committee is one that supports or opposes the nomination or election of a candidate. Because a judge or justice standing for retention is a candidate in an election, CTBC is a political committee.