Disclosure isn’t always forthcoming

By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

There is one big difference between the 527s and issues committees registered to Wells and most other issue committees and 527s in Colorado, and that’s their visibility with the general public.

RELATED STORY: CAMPAIGN FINANCE IN COLORADO: WHERE’S THE MONEY?

You can find websites for the pro and con sides of all of the numbered amendments and for most political candidates. You can also find website ads for many of those candidates and groups, such as on Facebook and The Denver Post.

Websites are designed to do two things: to provide information and to take in campaign contributions, everything from $1 to thousands of dollars. And the groups or candidates running the websites have very public faces. For example, Coloradans for Responsible Reform, which opposes Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, is under the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and its spokesman is Dan Hopkins, former spokesman for Gov. Bill Owens. The public face of Amendment 62 is Personhood Colorado, with a number of people and groups associated with that. The public face of “No on 62” is Fofi Mendez, its campaign manager, who is a well-known lobbyist at the state capitol.

But who speaks for Accountability for Colorado, for the Colorado Freedom Fund, for the Colorado Leadership Alliance, for The Neighborhood Project or for Twenty First Century Colorado? None of the Wells-affiliated 527s or issues committees that are active this year have a spokesperson or even a website that would allow average citizens to contact them or make contributions. The only one with a website is the Colorado League of Responsible Voters, at www.clrv.org. The website says the group is a coalition of state organizations, many of whom sit at the America Votes table (and America Votes is also listed as a partner). However, the website does not identify who actually runs the group, nor does it provide any opportunity for an average citizen who might support their mission to make a donation. It also does not list a spokesperson or any way to contact the organization.

Norm Provizer of Metropolitan State College of Denver said this lack of transparency may end up undermining the credibility of the organizations. People are entitled to know who is behind these groups, he said. “The idea of disclosure­­ — of knowing who supports who — is very important.”

The smallest cash contribution taken by Accountability for Colorado this year is $15; for Twenty First Century Colorado, it’s $20; for the Colorado League of Responsible Voters, it’s $100. Our Colorado Values, a 527 that has taken in $309,500, with $200,000 of it from Education Reform Now, lists its smallest cash contribution as $250. The 527 is doing mailers supporting Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley; and Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton; and against Rice’s Republican challenger, Kathleen Conti.

But the smallest cash contribution taken by The Neighborhood Project so far is $993; for the Colorado Alliance for Working Families, it’s $1,000; the Colorado Freedom Fund’s smallest cash contributions were for $5,000; and the smallest (and only) cash contribution taken by the Colorado Leadership Alliance was for $200,000. Citizens for Integrity reports receiving $198,000 in two contributions — from itself­ — and that money then went to the Colorado League of Responsible Voters.

Seth Masket of DU’s political science department said 527s can make campaign finance transparency “a kind of fiction.”

“The whole purpose of reporting requirements is so that we have accountability, that we have some way of knowing where the money is coming from,” he told The Statesman this week. These 527s draw their funds from an elite level of donors, he explained. “These are not organizations that are well known by the public, and they don’t spend a lot of time soliciting money from the public.”