After Campaign Finance Ruling, Colorado Adopts New Enforcement Process
By Jesse Paul
After a federal judge ruled last week that significant portions of Colorado's campaign finance complaint procedures are unconstitutional, state elections officials have adopted a new process under which they will now vet each grievance filed with their office before it can proceed.
That's a significant change from how complaints have been handled under campaign finance law enforcement policies voters added to the state's constitution in 2002, and which mandated that every complaint filed with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office be forwarded directly to an administrative law judge without review for merit.
But after U.S. District Court Judge Raymond Moore's decision last week that those procedures were unconstitutional, elections officials worked quickly to adopt new rules before the November election, which were released Tuesday.
"The adoption of these rules ensures Colorado's campaign finance laws are enforced while protecting each Coloradan's ability to participate in political speech," Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican, said in a written statement.
Under the new rules, adopted with consultation from the state's Democratic and Republican parties and the Colorado Attorney General's Office, elections officials will have 10 business days to make a decision on whether a campaign finance complaint is meritorious.
If the complaint is rejected by the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, the person who filed the allegation can appeal. There is also a process under which a flawed complaint can be fixed by whomever filed.
If a complaint is reviewed and found to have merit, it will be forwarded to an administrative law judge -- as was the process before.
"We're basically making sure that they've alleged an actual campaign finance violation," said Melissa Polk, legal manager in the state's elections division.
Under the old process, defendants could be forced to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend frivolous complaints since there was no way to halt or vet allegations from going before an administrative law judge.
Another significant portion of the new rules allow the Colorado Secretary of State's Office to offer opinions on campaign finance law that can be used as an affirmative defense to complaints.
"They already ask those questions, but before this we really gave them the caveat that they couldn't rely on it because anyone could file a complaint and it would go right to an (administrative law judge)," Polk said. "So that's a big change here."
Finally, the new rules also mandate that complaints must be filed no more than 90 days after the person bringing an allegation knew or should have known about the alleged violation.
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