The charity founded by anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce was fined $11,300 Tuesday by an administrative law judge in Denver for violating Colorado’s campaign finance laws.
Judge Matthew Norwood ruled that the Bruce-backed charity, Active Citizens Together, didn’t file legally-required campaign finance reports. The charity campaigned heavily in support of three anti-tax measures on the November ballot, Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101. All three failed.
Read Norwood's decision to the right, under Rich Media.
Bruce, who founded ACT in 2001,was listed as a principal of the organization in state documents until August when he stepped down as the charity’s registered agent. He says he now has no formal affiliation with ACT.
Still, he has been intertwined in campaign issues with the group for months, and was notably absent at hearing earlier this month when Norwood heard arguments on the case. No one from ACT was present at the hearings.
“The message here is that you don’t get to run secret political campaigns and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in Colorado politics,” said Mark Grueskin, attorney for Coloradans for Responsible Reform, the group that campaigned against 60, 61 and 101.
Bruce told The Gazette earlier this month that he’s formally dissolving ACT because the organization is broke. He said the group has no money to pay any fines.
On Tuesday, Bruce called the ruling a “total fraud,” and said his only connection with ACT is as a “volunteer bookkeeper.”
While ACT is registered with the state as an educational organization, it has functioned as a political issue committee, Norwood found.
ACT paid for an extensive campaign to both get the three measures onto the Colorado ballot and push the measures with voters, according to court documents. The group paid for petition circulators, campaign fliers, brochures and yard signs, Norwood ruled.
Issue committees have to report to the state how much they spend on campaigns.
ACT didn’t, they’re now likely going to have to settle a sizable debt with the state, Norwood ruled.
The fine for not filing the reports is $50 per day from the day of the missed report. Though ACT missed seven separate reports, but Norwood only fined them for a deadline missed in May. The $11,300 debt is owed to the Secretary of State’s office.
ACT has 30 days to appeal the ruling.
If ACT simply ignores the invoice from the Secretary of State, then the debt will be turned over to the state’s collection agency at the Department of Personnel and Administration.
Denver attorney Ryan Call, who specializes in election law, said that court proceedings by the state collections agency are rare.
“It’s pretty common that after a given period of time, it’s tabled,” Call said of such fines.
If the state doesn’t get paid, Call said a private party, such as Grueskin’s client, could file suit to force ACT to pay, with the fine money going to the plaintiff.
Grueskin said his client has not yet decided whether they’ll pursue that option.
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