Bill seeks more disclosure from shadowy political groups
DENVER – So-called 527 groups behind many of the negative campaign ads and mailings in recent elections would have to disclose more information about their funding more frequently under a proposal approved by a House committee Thursday.”There’s a sense that it’s easier to throw mud from the bushes. I think that shining some sunshine on them helps a little a bit with the tone of the debate,” sponsor Rep. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, said after the hearing.Named after a section of the IRS tax code, the groups can raise unlimited amounts of money and only have to report some information about some expenses leading up to the election.The proposal (House Bill 1074) backed by the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs would make 527s subject to the same state campaign finance reporting rules as other political groups minus the donation limits.Carroll said she thinks the secrecy the groups operate in emboldens them to twist the truth and voters don’t know who to hold accountable.Scott Gessler, a lawyer specializing in campaign finance, told lawmakers that he didn’t think lawmakers could require more reporting of 527 groups simply because they influence an election. He said the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down attempts to do that.Gessler said free speech can be messy sometimes, but it’s part of the democratic process.”That’s the price we pay for living in a free society,” he said.Carroll said influence is a standard currently used in state campaign finance law but she didn’t know if that had been challenged. She said she isn’t trying limit how much money 527 groups can raise because that would be harder to defend in court. She said lawmakers should look at limits on all groups, not just 527s, because otherwise the money would just shift to a new place.”I want to start out with just the truth first,” she said.Currently, 527s must submit information to the state about money spent on ads, mailings and automatic phone calls within a month of a primary or two months of a general election. Carroll said they don’t have to reveal how much they spent on consultants or people hired to trail candidates hoping to catch them in a misstep.Any group raising more than $25,000 also must report funding information each quarter to the IRS but, under that schedule, the returns for the time leading up to fall elections aren’t available until January. Under state law, they would have to report all donors and their employers along with expenditures each month for the six months before an election and every two weeks in the month before a primary and two months before a general election. The report would also include which races they’re involved in.Carroll said a review of the records that do exist on the groups show there are anywhere between 40 and 150 527’s in Colorado. She said they spent about $30 million leading up to November’s election.
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