You’ve read by now about the major campaign finance rule changes proposed by Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler earlier this month. The brief summary of what Gessler is attempting here, as we understand it, is a smorgasbord of rewrites to campaign finance rules that would significantly undermine issue committee disclosure, while tightening requirements for “membership organizations.” In short, the rules would liberalize parts of campaign finance law that are onerous to Republican traditional funding sources, while restricting sources typically utilized by Democrats. Many of the changes are believed to go well beyond the Secretary of State’s rulemaking authority, and are almost certain to result in litigation.
Yesterday afternoon, Gessler felt compelled to send out a very unusual defense of his proposed rule changes, along with other recent actions taken by his office, on official letterhead:
Coloradans supported campaign finance transparency, but our campaign finance laws have led to two major problems. First, the rules and regulations have become incredibly complex, making it very difficult for volunteers and part-time activists to follow the law.
Second, campaign finance fines have been completely out of proportion to the violations. We’ve seen candidates with very limited contributions rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, not because they were intentionally hiding their political spending, but because of filing mistakes or confusion.
As a result, Colorado politics has become a game for the wealthy, who can hire expensive lawyers and accountants…
I am proposing a re-write of Colorado’s campaign finance rules, for three reasons. First, the rules are poorly organized, and reorganization will make them easier to use. Second, some rules are poorly written, and a substantial re-write will make it easier to understand the rules. Third, the rules need to reflect recent court cases and experience. Accordingly, the rules will reflect several new, common-sense interpretations. [Pols emphasis]
Now, some of you will no doubt remember that Scott Gessler was the “expensive lawyer” for the Colorado Independent Auto Dealers Association, which racked up an eye-popping $500,000 in fines–an amount, at least partly mitigating Gessler’s lament above, later reduced to around $8,500. As Secretary of State, Gessler first slashed the fines owed by the Larimer County GOP after mismanagement by an alleged criminal, then hosted a fundraiser to help pay them.
So, thanks to Gessler, at least insofar as Gessler’s fellow Republicans are concerned, the status quo isn’t as bad as it’s being made out. Still, Gessler seems aware that he can’t man a dunk tank every time a Republican is slapped with a huge fine, so he wants to “fix the broken system.”
Unfortunately, I’ve received some partisan criticism from those locked into a broken system. We need, however, leadership to fix a broken system and to even the playing field for everyone who gets involved in politics. People deserve a clear understanding of our campaign finance system without having to pay a lawyer and an accountant.
We get it! Gessler can’t moonlight for his old law firm either, so the incentive to keep the campaign finance compliance industry in Colorado going just isn’t there anymore.
We don’t have to reach for the punchlines, folks. They’re in plain view. In truth, Gessler’s proposed changes to campaign finance rules might mean less money spent on lawyers like Gessler–but only because they give election lawyers like Gessler so much of what they want.
In addition, Gessler explains that the legislative Legal Services Committee will convene tomorrow to discuss the solution for a conflict in the law that emerged last summer in primary campaign reporting–this was the case where Gessler “resolved” the error by eliminating a whole class of primary disclosure reports. More likely, the legislative committee will decide to fix the glitch rather than simply eliminate the reports, but this was Gessler’s last chance to plead his odd case:
I encourage you to make your opinions known about how the reporting schedule should be interpreted. The committee’s vote may have a big impact on how often people report before a primary.
Who do you think the audience is for this? The only reason we can think of why one would not want the legislature to fix the dates for reporting is to intentionally facilitate less reporting, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be better for Gessler to call for fixing the dates instead of eliminating biweekly primary finance reports? Like we say, if Gessler simply supported the legislature fixing the error in the prescribed dates…but, as should be clear by now, his interest is more than that.
Bottom line: it’s important to remember how Gessler is supposed to do his job. The Secretary of State proposes draft rules, the public comments, and taking those comments into consideration, final rules are published. In this case, however, Gessler actively lobbies for his controversial proposals, rightfully raising questions about his willingness to accept feedback at all. And he uses official channels to defend himself politically on a host of controversial actions he’s taken.
It’s one of those things you have to understand in its full scope to realize how unseemly it is.