The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re the Complaint Filed by the City of Colorado Springs, and Concerning Colorado Ethics Watch on March 29, 2012.
Campaign Finance Disclosure Requirements—Home-Rule Municipalities—Jurisdiction.
Colorado Ethics Watch (CEW) sent a letter to the Mayor and Vice Mayor of the City of Colorado Springs (City), alleging that a slate of City Council candidates had violated campaign finance disclosure requirements set forth in part 2 of the elections chapter (campaign practices ordinance) of the City’s Municipal Code (City Code). CEW requested that the City Attorney investigate allegations that the candidates failed to register individual candidate committees and to file campaign finance disclosure reports.
The Mayor forwarded the complaint to the Secretary of State’s office, requesting it investigate. The Secretary of State forwarded the complaint to the Office of Administrative Courts for assignment to an administrative law judge (ALJ), noting that the City would be the complainant.
The ALJ sua sponte issued an order addressing subject matter jurisdiction, noting that the City is a home-rule municipality that may legislate as to matters of local concern. He concluded that the City’s campaign practices ordinance regulates campaign registration and disclosure practices and provides a process for local investigation and prosecution of alleged violations, and that these provisions superseded state law provisions. The ALJ dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
On appeal, the City argued that its campaign practices ordinance addressed only knowing violations, and that non-knowing violations may be referred to the state for investigation under the Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA). The Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed the decision of the ALJ.
The Court looked to section 6 of Article XX of the Colorado Constitution, which provides, in part, that home-rule municipalities have the “power to legislate upon, provide, regulate, conduct and control . . . [a]ll matters pertaining to municipal elections in such city or town . . . including . . . securing the purity of elections.” The FCPA provides that “[t]he requirements of article XXVIII of the state constitution and of this article shall not apply to . . . home rule municipalities that have adopted charters, ordinances, or resolutions that address the matters covered by article XXVIII and [the FCPA].” The Court held that the City fell within this exclusion because its campaign practices ordinance covered matters addressed by the FCPA. Therefore, the ALJ’s ruling on jurisdiction was correct. The Court also found that (1) the Secretary of State has adopted a rule recognizing the exclusion from state disclosure requirements for home-rule municipalities that have legislated on the same subject matter; (2) the Attorney General has issued an opinion concluding that article XXVIII does not apply to home-rule municipalities that have enacted provisions addressing the same subject matter; and (3) the Colorado Supreme Court and divisions of the Court of Appeals previously have held that municipal elections are a matter of local concern. Finally, the Court rejected the City’s assertion that the campaign practices ordinance applies only to knowing violations and that CEW’s complaint did not allege a knowing violation. The order was affirmed.