DENVER — The former policy director for the Colorado State Senate Republicans, Charles Heatherly, has filed a campaign finance complaint against an out-of-state, progressive, dark-money fund that pumped millions into several of Colorado’s 2020 ballot issues without registering in the state as either an Independent Expenditure Committee (IEC) or an issues committee, which are required to name their donors.
Heatherly filed the complaint with the Secretary of State’s office on December 15 against the North Fund, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that a recent Axios report calls “shadowy even by the standards of D.C. advocacy groups.” Although well past the 180-day limit on campaign finance complaints, Heatherly says in his complaint that he is within his rights to file based on past rulings by Jena Griswold’s office.
“A complaint must be filed no later than one hundred eighty days after the date on which the complainant either knew or should have known, by the exercise of reasonable diligence, of the alleged violation,” reads Heatherly’s complaint in part, quoting current state statute.
However, Heatherly points out he only learned of the North Fund’s activities in December 2021. “I was inspired to examine patterns of anonymous political spending in Colorado after the (administrative law judge’s ALJ) decision in Unite (for Colorado). The type of spending being addressed in this complaint would not have deemed a complaint until the ALJ rendered his decision … on Aug. 18, 2021.”
Heatherly was referring to a decision by the Secretary of State’s office to forward a complaint against Unite for Colorado, a right-of-center non-profit that supported several ballot measures during the 2021 Colorado elections, to the ALJ, which then assessed a fine on the group of $40,000 and demanded it name its donors. This came after the president of another Colorado non-profit that engages in elections filed the complaint against Unite, saying the group was not a 501 (c)(4) long enough to not name its donors.
“We watched as Unite for Colorado was stood up almost overnight — no past experience,” Scott Wasserman, president of the progressive Bell Policy Center in Denver, told Colorado Public Radio about the reason behind his complaint, adding his group does not disclose its donors either but “has a decades-long history.”
Complete Colorado has previously reported on the heavy political spending in Colorado by another progressive dark money group, The Sixteen Thirty Fund, and recently also reported on the North Fund’s spending in Colorado in 2020, neither of which filed as an IEC or an issues committee.
Heatherly further argues in his complaint that if the Secretary of State denies his reasons based on when he should have known, another decision by Griswold against former Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert further supports the need to move his complaint forward.
“It is unreasonable to expect citizens unfamiliar with Colorado campaign law to trawl the Secretary of State’s website,” Heatherly writes in his complaint, citing Griswold’s ruling. “Requiring complainants to know of events as they are happening on TRACER would impose an undue burden on individuals, undermine the purpose of campaign finance law, and be contrary to the plain language of (a section of state law). The secretary of state’s office must effectuate the General Assembly’s goals of allowing ordinary citizens to help ensure transparency in Colorado election and enforce the state’s campaign laws.”
Finally, Heatherly argues in his complaint that in the Staiert case, Griswold said the statute of limitations is “inapplicable when the filer of the complaint cannot be deemed to be a sophisticated political operative or arguably is anyone who has not yet viewed a campaign finance filing to determine whether it complies with Colorado law. At the very least, that same standard should apply here.”
Heatherly said in the filing that until the Unite decision, he had no reason to examine campaign finance expenditures in Colorado.
“In fact, the Unite decision should grant me great deference in the ‘knew or should have known’ standard because prior to that decision, I had no means of knowing that North Fund’s behavior was considered contrary to Colorado law or required North Fund to file as an issue committee.”
According to the complaint, the North Fund showed up three times in the top 10 contributions for Colorado ballot issues. with total contributions (nationwide) at $96 million. Its top-three contributions, alone, in Colorado amounted to 4.1 percent of its total spending.
“It is especially important that this matter be resolved before North Fund spends any dark money in the 2022 election cycle. Colorado voters have a right to know the donors behind this out of state special interest group that is influencing elections.”
Complete Colorado will continue to follow the complaint.
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