May 22, 2018

Colorado Supreme Court: Political Committee Must Report Payments to Law Firm as Contributions, Not Expenditures

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Campaign Integrity Watchdog v. Alliance for a Safe and Independent Woodmen Hills on Monday, January 30, 2018.

Election Law—Constitutional Law—Political Speech.

The supreme court held that a political committee must report payments to a law firm for its legal defense as contributions, but not as expenditures. “[E]xpenditures . . . and obligations” under C.R.S. § 1-45-108(1)(a)(I) are limited to payments and obligations for expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate; payments for legal defense are not for express electoral advocacy. But, pursuant to Colo. Const. art. XXVIII, § 2(5)(a)(II), payments to a third-party law firm for a political committee’s legal defense count as reportable contributions because they are payments “made to a third party for the benefit of any . . . political committee.”

The court reversed the administrative law judge’s determination that the contribution-reporting requirement is unconstitutional as applied to Alliance for a Safe and Independent Woodmen Hills (Alliance). Under Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 61–68 (1976), for political committees like Alliance whose major purpose is influencing elections, the governmental interests in political transparency and preventing corruption justify the First Amendment burdens of reporting and disclosure. It makes little difference that the payments here were made post-election and for legal defense; elections are cyclical and money is fungible.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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