Rocky again failed to note campaign finance changes made at the urging of Republican lawyers

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

In an analysis of so-called small-donor committees and their role in the upcoming election, the Rocky Mountain News again failed to note that Secretary of State Gigi Dennis (R) changed three campaign finance rules at the urging of Republican lawyers. In contrast, in the same issue of the News was an article covering a debate between candidates running for Secretary of State that reported criticisms of the new rules by all three candidates.

In a September 6 analysis of so-called small-donor committees and their role in the upcoming election, the Rocky Mountain News again failed to note that Secretary of State Gigi Dennis (R) changed three state campaign finance rules at the urging of Republican lawyers. According to the News article by reporter Burt Hubbard, "Unions [in Colorado] used small-donor committees and their higher contribution limits to pump more than $1.3 million into state races and political committees before Secretary of State Gigi Dennis's ruling last month to crack down on them." But the article did not mention that Dennis's decision to change the rules came at the request of lawyers representing Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez's campaign, the state Republican Party, and the Republican-backed Trailhead Group. In contrast, in the same issue of the News was an article covering a debate between candidates running for Secretary of State. That article reported criticisms of the rule changes by all three candidates, including Democratic candidate Ken Gordon (D-Denver), who said, "The problem I have with what Gigi Dennis did is that some Republican lawyers came to her and asked for the change ... [s]he acted in a partisan way. That's wrong, and that's the last thing you want from the secretary of state."

According to the News' September 6 analysis, "Secretary of State Dennis shook up the status quo on small-donor committees Aug. 2 when she issued new rules that require all political committees that depend on membership dues for donations to get written approval from each person." But an earlier News article, from August 25, noted that one of Dennis's new rules -- the one requiring written consent to use membership dues for political campaigns -- "was taken verbatim" from a recommendation by attorneys for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez's campaign and the Trailhead Group. Similarly, The Denver Post reported on August 24 that Beauprez campaign attorney Scott Gessler and Trailhead attorney John Zakhem "proposed requiring groups to get written permission from each member to transfer dues to a political or small-donor committee" and that the requirement "was adopted in its entirety by Dennis." The same Post article also reported that Gessler "acknowledged politics played a role" in his request for the rule changes.

As the Denver Post reported August 23, the revised campaign finance rules prompted a lawsuit from a coalition of unions, private citizens and state Rep. Michael Cerbo (D-Denver). In addition to requiring written consent to use membership dues for political campaigns, the new rules change the definition of a campaign contribution and require political committees to affirm under penalty of perjury that campaign contributions came from "permissible" sources.

The News reported in its September 6 analysis that "Democrats and unions fear Dennis's ruling will slow the flow of small-donor money and charge it was politically motivated" before noting that "Dennis is a former Republican state senator." The article did not mention the role Republican attorneys played in adoption of the new rules. The same analysis also quoted Dennis as saying, "The rules adopted by this office require any membership organization, whether Republican or Democrat, to ask their members for permission before transferring dues to candidates." This statement echoes Dennis's previous claim that Democrats requested some of the controversial campaign finance changes, as Colorado Media Matters has noted. According to an August 31 News article, "Dennis said she listened to advocates in both parties, and some rule changes she made were at the urging of Democrats." In that instance, the News also offered no substantiation for Dennis's claim and did not explain to which rules she was referring.

In contrast to the News' analysis of small-donor committees, the newspaper's September 6 debate coverage noted that all three candidates running for Secretary of State -- including Republican candidate Mike Coffman -- disagreed with Dennis's decision to change the state's campaign finance rules. According to the article, "All three candidates for secretary of state criticized the current officeholder Tuesday for making changes to campaign finance laws two months before the November election." The same article also noted that "[Ken] Gordon, who last week called on Dennis to resign,* accused her of playing partisan politics."

From the September 6 Rocky Mountain News article by Burt Hubbard, "Union contributions 'huge' ":

Unions used small-donor committees and their higher contribution limits to pump more than $1.3 million into state races and political committees before Secretary of State Gigi Dennis' ruling last month to crack down on them.

The amount is 10 times more than political donations from all other small-donor committees combined and accounts for more than 40 percent of the money raised so far by Democratic candidates in key races that likely will decide control of the state legislature, according to a Rocky Mountain News analysis.

"That's huge, $1.3 million," said Republican political analyst and consultant Katy Atkinson. "If you divide that up between 10 targeted House and Senate races, it's absolutely huge."

[...]

Republicans decry [the committees] as a way for Democrats to funnel large sums of anonymous donations into political races. Most union member donations are under $20 and not subject to disclosure.

"All of the money going into those small-donor committees are anonymous," said Rob Fairbank, a Republican campaign consultant and former state legislator. "The voters in that district have absolutely no idea of the names of the people behind that money."

Secretary of State Dennis shook up the status quo on small-donor committees Aug. 2 when she issued new rules that require all political committees that depend on membership dues for donations to get written approval from each person. She also ruled that the groups attest that all of the money came from American citizens.

Several unions and Democrats sued and the matter is now in Denver District Court.

[...]

However, Democrats and unions fear Dennis's ruling will slow the flow of small-donor money and charge it was politically motivated. Dennis is a former Republican state senator.

"It does have a chilling effect in that people are not quite sure what it means," Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Pat Waak said. "It's clearly a very political act on the part of the secretary of state."

But Bob Martinez, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, said the ruling rights a wrong created by campaign finance reform.

"I think that's legitimate. When people contribute to those organizations, they would like to know where their money is going," he said.

Dennis said the rules apply to Democrats and Republicans.

"The rules adopted by this office require any membership organization, whether Republican or Democrat, to ask their members for permission before transferring dues to candidates," Dennis said in prepared statement.

Correction: 

The Rocky Mountain News article quoted here inaccurately states that Democratic candidate for Secretary of State Ken Gordon called "on Dennis to resign."
[See September 8 Colorado Media Matters item]

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