UPDATE: Victory! Thursday, June 5, 2014, Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert denied Citizens United's petition to "be the media", i.e., to run political ads masquerading as documentaries, without disclosing donors.
The Colorado Secretary of State's office ruled that an upcoming documentary featuring state politicians "is an electioneering communication" and that it does not fall under any of the exemptions to state laws requiring political groups to disclose financial donors when running ads that mention candidates within 60 days of an election.
Practically, this means that Citizens United will have to disclose that it is a political organization in any TV ads running 60 days before the election. CU can still run a planned film documentary which "focuses on left-leaning groups and their influence on Colorado politicians and policies", according to David Bossie, President of Citizens United.
Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, which challenged the Citizens United petition, said that CU could sue Secretary of State Gessler in Federal Court and get an injunction. It's all speculation at this point, stated Toro. David Bossie signalled his intent to take the case back to the Supreme Court, which has ruled in favor of Citizens United.
Citizens United, the conservative "non-profit" which won a landmark Supreme Court decision allowing for unlimited dark money in politics, wants to spend big on political attack ads in Colorado without disclosing any donors.
As an end-run around campaign finance laws, Citizens United is claiming to be a media organization, composed of independent journalists just like Michael Moore, according to CU President David Bossie, quoted in the 9News interview below. CU petitioned the Secretary of State to determine that its proposed political films should not be considered "electioneering" or "political expenditures".
Colorado Ethics Watch pushed back in a hearing through the Secretary of State's Office, which is no friend to Colorado Ethics Watch. That makes this decision pleasantly surprising.
From the Colorado Ethics Watch Press Release:
Today, Colorado Ethics Watch filed comments with the Colorado Secretary of State opposing Citizens United’s request for a declaration that it can spend unlimited money on ads opposing Governor John Hickenlooper’s re-election without disclosing the source or amount of the funds spent.
Citizens United is best known for filing the Supreme Court case that allowed it to spend unlimited amounts of corporate money on elections, but still required it to disclose the source of the funds. Since that decision, Citizens United has jumped into state politics, including last year’s gubernatorial race in Virginia where it filed disclosures for radio ads promoting its “movie” attacking candidate Terry McAuliffe.
On April 17, Citizens United filed a petition with Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler asking for a declaration that it is exempt from Colorado campaign finance disclosure laws because it is a broadcaster or news outlet. The Secretary of State scheduled a hearing on the petition for Tuesday, June 3 at 9:00 a.m.
“If Citizens United is treated as part of the media just because it regularly puts out ads attacking candidates, then every sleazy attack group in the state will be able to do the same thing,” said Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro. “Citizens United can spend all the money it wants attacking the Governor or any other candidate. All we ask is that it follow Colorado’s laws requiring disclosure of political money just like other groups from all political points of view are required to do."
Since Scott Gessler is running for Governor, his deputy, Suzanne Staiert, made the decision on CU's petition. The petition was denied this week; Citizens United may choose to take it to the Colorado and Federal Supreme Court to "fight for the first amendment".
Below is the original 9 News report on Citizens United's attempt to become the media in Colorado:
Original 9 news video on the issues in the Citizens United v Colorado Ethics Watch case: