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  • Writer's pictureMario Nicolais

Colorado Court of Appeals alters the 2020 landscape for politically active organizations

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

A little heralded decision by the Colorado Court of Appeals could cause headaches for politically active organizations involved in Colorado’s 2020 elections. In an unpublished opinion, the court of appeals affirmed that Colorado Pioneer Action – a nonprofit organization run by former congressman and GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez – qualified as a “political committee” during the 2016 election.

Brought by serial campaign finance gadfly Matt Arnold and his alter-ego organization, Campaign Integrity Watchdog (a group I litigated against on multiple occasions over the past five years), the case took square aim at the 501(c) framework often used by both sides of the political aisle.

Colorado Pioneer Action operated as a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization promoting conservative principles and policies in Colorado. As a part of that work, Colorado Pioneer Action provided significant funding to an affiliated independent expenditure group, Colorado Right Now, to engage in political communications during the 2016 primary and general elections.

What might seem like a cynical shell game to outside observers is standard operating procedure for partisans on both sides of the aisle. Conservative and liberal organizations alike raise funds into one group that doesn’t spend money on elections but donates to an affiliate that does. Consequently, the only “contributor” disclosed by the second group is the first; individual contributors to the original organization never become public.

For example, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains Action Fund is also a 501(c)(4) organization. Its stated goals include “to foster and preserve a social and political climate favorable to the exercise of reproductive choice.” In 2018, it made $236,544.79 in total political contributions, all directed to its affiliated Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado Independent Expenditure Committee.

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