July 17, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Political Party Can Establish Expenditure Committee Not Subject to Contribution Limits

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Colorado Republican Party v. Williams on Thursday, February 25, 2016.

Independent Expenditure Committee—Political Party—Contributions—Constitutional Limits—Campaign and Political Finance Amendment—Fair Campaign Practices Act.

The Colorado Republican Party (Party) is a Colorado unincorporated nonprofit association. The Party created an Independent Expenditure Committee (IEC) to make independent expenditures and raise funds through donations and otherwise in any amount from any permissible source to fund that committee. The Party filed the current lawsuit seeking declaratory relief to confirm its actions. The district court granted summary judgment, concluding that the current constitutional and statutory scheme allows a political party to create an IEC and that such a committee is not subject to any contribution limits applicable to political parties under the Campaign and Political Finance Amendment and the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

On appeal, intervenor Colorado Ethics Watch, a nonprofit organization authorized to do business in Colorado, contended that the district court erred when it interpreted the Fair Campaign Practices Act to allow a political party to establish an IEC not subject to the source and contribution limits set forth in the Colorado Constitution, article XXVIII (the Campaign and Political Finance Amendment) and CRS §§ 1-45-101 to -118 (the Fair Campaign Practices Act). The current legislative scheme and pertinent case law, however, provide no barrier to the Party’s establishment of the IEC.

Ethics Watch also asked the Court of Appeals to conclude as a matter of law, based on federal precedent, that any IEC established by a political party is per se incapable of independence in that it is always controlled by or coordinated with the party, therefore subjecting the committee to source and contribution limits. The Court declined to “read an exception to the law that is not there.”

The order was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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