Supreme Court Weighs in on Campaign Finance Issues

Decisions look at donated legal services, monetary contributions in campaign finance

In late January, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in two cases concerning campaign finance. One, Coloradans for a Better Future v. Campaign Integrity Watchdog, centered on the question of whether donated legal services to political organizations are considered reportable contributions. The court ruled that such services are not contributions. Regarding the second case, Campaign Integrity Watchdog v. Alliance for a Safe and Independent Woodmen Hills, the court ruled that payments to a third-party law firm must be reported as contributions as well, but not as expenditures.

In 2012, Campaign Integrity Watchdog founder Matthew Arnold ran for a seat on the board of regents at the University of Colorado. Arnold lost to his opponent, Brian Davidson. The political organization Coloradans for a Better Future ran radio ads supporting Davidson and opposing Arnold. Arnold, acting on behalf of CIW, filed four complaints against CBF concerning campaign finance violations.

An administrative law judge in 2013 fined CBF $4,525 because the organization failed to report the radio ads as election communications. Counsel for CBF Jonathan Anderson represented the organization in this case. Arnold argued that Anderson’s legal services should have been reported as an expenditure or a contribution. In 2014, Anderson filed a contribution and termination report for Better Future. CIW subpoenaed the law firm for records and invoices of the services provided. The firm’s documents showed it invoiced CBF for Anderson’s work in 2013 but not for the termination report filed in 2014.

In response to CIW’s argument that the organization should have reported that work, an administrative law judge ruled that CBF was not required to report these services as a contribution. The Court of Appeals reversed that decision, ruling that CBF was required to report donated legal services as a contribution.

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