Colorado's silly campaign-finance law has become a national spectacle among inside-ball politicos, mostly for igniting the hobby of one low-level agitator with lots of time on his hands.
A bill working its way through the Legislature, as of late Friday, would improve compliance with the law and reduce its abuse.
As reported last month in the right-leaning Reason magazine, anti-conservative activist Matt Arnold has used the state's Amendment 27 to file dozens of complaints against grass-roots conservative Republicans. Most involve trivial clerical errors, with no significant ramifications, which could and would be cleared up in moments with the mere courtesy of notice.
Arnold tried at least once, in vain, to monetize a complaint by asking the defendant for $10,000.
One typical complaint sought more than $30,000 in fines because of clerical errors involving two $3 donations. For average Coloradans, the threat of big fines for tiny mistakes is enough to dissuade them from participation in the political process.
Arnold tripped up the El Paso County Republican Party for failing to fill in job titles of a few donors in a spread sheet that contained more than 50,000 data cells.
An administrative law judge defined Arnold's petty complaints as "nothing more than a game of "Gotcha." It is such small ball we would laugh, if it didn't genuinely silence ordinary citizens.
House Bill 1155, approved in a House committee last week, would adjust Amendment 27 to substantially reduce abuse. It would establish a 15-day grace period to fix errors after candidates, committees and campaigns are notified. No penalties would be assessed on those who show an administrative law judge that a good-faith effort was made to comply with requirements in the first place and substantial compliance had occurred.
"It's encouraging candidates to go ahead and fix those issues," Deputy Secretary of State and attorney Suzanne Staiert told the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
The bill would curb "gamesmanship, political posturing" and other motivations for mischief, she said.
The public deserves transparency and full compliance with reporting rules. That is what House Bill 1155 would achieve, while eliminating unintended consequences of a law so poorly written it has been used to intimidate and silence Coloradans with conservative views.
The bill has bipartisan support because even most Democrats defend the rights of Republicans to participate in politics without stepping on landmines of disproportional liability. Left-of-center Coloradans know it is only a matter of time before some bored agitator targets them for drawn-out ordeals involving minor clerical mistakes.
Pass House Bill 1155, to restore integrity to Colorado's campaign finance laws, achieve better compliance and protect grass-roots participation in our political process.
The gazette editorial board