Rocky misleadingly reported Dennis issued campaign finance rule "in response to the 2002 passage of Amendment 27"


A Rocky Mountain News article misleadingly stated that a controversial campaign finance rule change made by Republican Secretary of State Gigi Dennis was "issued in response" to Amendment 27, passed in 2002. The article did not mention that the rule was enacted August 2 of this year after "in-person requests" from Republican attorneys.

A September 27 Rocky Mountain News news article by Ann Imse reporting on a lawsuit against a controversial campaign finance rule issued by Colorado Secretary of State Gigi Dennis (R) stated that the rule was "issued in response to the 2002 passage of Amendment 27 to the Colorado Constitution." That misleading characterization did not report the fact Dennis issued the rule August 2 of this year -- reportedly following "in-person requests" by Republican attorneys who first proposed the rule this year.

The rule, which would require membership groups such as unions to obtain written consent from each member to donate a portion of his or her dues to poitical campaigns, was struck down by District Court Judge John McMullen on September 15. An appeals court on Sept. 28 upheld McMullen's ruling and gave the state until Oct. 2 to appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.

As Colorado Media Matters has repeatedly noted (here, here, here, here, here and here), the attorneys who proposed the rule -- John Zakhem and Scott Gessler -- represent the Colorado Republican Party, the Republican Trailhead Group, and the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez. In an August 24 article, The Denver Post reported that Gessler -- an attorney for the Beauprez campaign -- "acknowledged politics played a role" in his advocacy of the rule, which, in his opinion, corrected pre-existing rules that were "riddled with exceptions that help out Democratic constituencies." The Post reported that the rule proffered by Zakhem and Gessler on requiring groups to get permission from each member to transfer dues "was adopted in its entirety by Dennis." In an August 25 article, the Rocky Mountain News stated -- apparently in reference to the same rule -- that "[t]he language in one new provision was taken verbatim from a recommendation by GOP attorneys John Zakhem and Scott Gessler."

The News' September 27 article, which asserted that Dennis issued the rule "in response to the 2002 passage of Amendment 27," contained no information about the Republican lawyers' roles in proposing the rule, nor did the article explain that Dennis adopted the rule in August of this year.

Amendment 27 went into effect December 6, 2002, following its adoption as a measure on the November 5, 2002, general election ballot. Dennis's predecessor, Donetta Davidson, issued rules, effective January 6, 2004, governing implementation of the amendment and related statutes. Republican Governor Bill Owens appointed Dennis to succeed Davidson on August 29, 2005.

Although the September 27 News article did not report this, Dennis has explained the connection between the controversial rule and Amendment 27 as follows:

Following testimony received in a June public hearing we adopted the rules in response to lawsuits challenging the validity of Amendment 27, which Colorado voters approved in 2002, and its campaign spending and reporting requirements.

A Nexis search* of The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News revealed three lawsuits that have been filed against Amendment 27 in the period between its adoption November 5, 2002, and the issuance of Dennis's campaign finance rule on August 2, 2006. The cases were filed by the Independence Institute on October 11, 2005; the Colorado Right to Life Committee on June 1, 2005; and Colorado Right to Life and Colorado Citizens for Responsible Government on July 31, 2003. At issue in each was Amendment 27's requirement that advocacy groups active in an election disclose information about their contributors.

* The Nexis search was conducted on the terms "[amendment w/1 27] and lawsuit" for the period November 6, 2002, to August 2, 2006.

From Imse's article "Donor-rule showdown" in the September 27 edition of the Rocky Mountain News:

A decision against the state could release hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to Colorado campaigns for the November election. Many of those dollars are from unions, and so far they have gone largely to Democratic candidates.

The lawsuit is a tussle over the rule Dennis issued in response to the 2002 passage of Amendment 27 to the Colorado Constitution, which was sponsored by Common Cause. The political watchdog group said it would cut big-money contributions to Colorado political campaigns.

The amendment limited campaign contributions in general and barred direct contributions by unions and corporations. But it allowed them to create small-donor committees, which can accept contributions from individuals, and then make a group donation. So far this year, such groups have given more than $1.3 million to Colorado campaigns.

Plaintiffs' attorney Mark Grueskin said the unions require their members to make contributions to accounts used for political purposes, but members may ask for refunds. Less than 1 percent do, according to court documents. [Grueskin also serves as counsel for Colorado Media Matters.]

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