Smoke screen of outside money, complex disclosure laws obscure spending in school board races

Todd Engdahl (Chalkbeat Colorado)-

Good luck if you’re trying to follow the money in Colorado’s increasingly expensive and contentious school board races.

Increased involvement by outside groups and inconsistencies in state law have made it harder for voters to track who’s supporting board candidates.

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In Colorado battleground county, conservative school board members face recall efforts

Ivan Moreno (US News and World Report)-

Angry parents and educators in a Colorado battleground county are trying to recall three conservative school board members Tuesday, citing several complaints, including a change in how teachers get pay raises and talk of reviewing the history curriculum to promote patriotism.

The idea prompted students to walk out of class and protest in the streets last year. Teachers staged sick-outs, the Jefferson County district claimed.

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Dark money, lies and disclosure in the JeffCo school board race

Marianne Goodland (The Colorado Independent)- Groups opposed to the recall of three conservative Jefferson County Board of Education members are doing their best to keep under wraps how much they’re spending on opposition mailers or TV time. And these groups are getting help in hiding that spending from an industry that normally advocates for the public’s right to know: Denver’s broadcast TV stations.

The Colorado Independent has so far been able to tie at least $261,000 in advertising to the groups that either directly advocate against the recall or in favor of actions taken by the board majority. All but $41,000 comes from groups that are not required by either state or federal law to disclose donations or how they spend their money. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

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Watchdog group files complaints against groups pushing recall

Gabrielle Porter (High Timber Times)- A Colorado Springs-based watchdog organization has accused groups involved in instigating the recall of three Jeffco school members of violating state campaign finance laws in two lawsuits that will go before Colorado’s Office of Administrative Courts.

Colorado Government Watch alleged in an Oct. 13 complaint that nonprofit groups Jeffco United and Support Jeffco Kids — both of which have ties to the organization that initiated the recall of conservative school board members John Newkirk, Ken Witt and Julie Williams — are acting as financial pass-throughs for campaign funds while their nonprofit status protects them from disclosing donors. Colorado Government Watch wants the state to require both groups to register as issue committees, which would force them to disclose their donors, said director Dede Laugesen.

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Anonymous benefactor pays for city officials to attend Olympic Museum meeting

Pam Zubeck (Colorado Springs Independent)- Last month, eight people from Colorado Springs, including city employees, boarded a plane for New York City to talk about improvements to the streetscape and infrastructure surrounding the Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame with the project’s New York-based designer.

In an unusual move, the nonprofit Colorado Springs Sports Corp. used a donation from an unnamed “private foundation” to fund $15,748 in travel expenses for three city employees and two others associated with the city.

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2nd search committee name in hunt for Colorado federal judge

Monica Mendoza (Denver Business Journal)- It appears there are dueling search committees for the hunt to fill a vacancy on U.S. District Court in Colorado.

Today, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, announced the formation of a bipartisan advisory committee that will recommend qualified applicants to fill an upcoming vacancy on the U.S. District Court in Colorado, created by Judge Robert Blackburn’s taking senior status on April 12, 2016.

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Broomfield council candidate’s past conduct raises questions about ethics, party politics

Shay Castle (Broomfield Enterprise)- An appointed member of Broomfield City Council running for election is coming under fire for his involvement in a series of civil suits, prompting questions over his suitability to hold elected office.

Between 2009 and 2013, Ward 4 Councilman Dennis Harward and his companies were defendants in at least five civil suits, three of which alleged unethical business practices, including misrepresentation and use of deceptive competitive strategies.

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Public-land transfer proponents may have violated lobbying laws

Joshua Zaffos (High Country News)- The central organization that advocates for Western states to take over federal public lands, Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory’s American Lands Council, is apparently running roughshod over state legislative rules.

The Colorado Secretary of State announced last week that it has “reasonable grounds to believe” the ALC may have violated state lobbying and disclosure rules for failing to report political spending or to register as a lobbyist. The ALC, which leads the West-wide movement to transfer federal lands to states’ control, emailed Colorado supporters this spring to build backing for a bill that would have created a county commissioner-led task force to study the benefits of public-lands transfer to the state of Colorado. (The Senate bill failed by one vote.) The ALC has ushered similar bills through nearly every Western state legislature, with varying success.

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Attorney’s listicle shows horror of Colorado school board rules

Kyle Harris (The Colorado Independent)- Few organizations bust Colorado’s power brokers in court as regularly as Colorado Ethics Watch. So when the organization’s attorney Peg Perl speaks — especially in a Buzzfeed listicle — Coloradans would be wise to listen.

Check out her post: “6 Scary Things You Need to Know About Colorado School Boards,” in which she uses GIF’s of pop culture icons including Darth Vader, Jerry Maguire and Napoleon (of Napoleon Dynamite) to explain troubling facts about the state’s rules governing school boards.

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SOS finds “reasonable grounds” that ALC violated lobbyist law

Today, Colorado Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Steiert found that “reasonable grounds” exist to believe American Lands Council (ALC) or its staff broke Colorado lobbying registration law.

The finding came in response to a lobbying complaint filed by Ethics Watch after ALC emailed Coloradans and urged them to contact legislators in support of a bill to study transferring federal public land to the state. ALC did not report any lobbying spending nor registered itself or a paid staff member as a registered lobbyist, as required by Colorado law.

ALC has thirty days to respond in writing to the finding.

The Secretary of State could issue a cease-and-desist order requiring ALC to comply with lobbying disclosure law or refer the matter for criminal prosecution. Willful violation of the lobbying law is a misdemeanor.

Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro said: “We are pleased that the Secretary of State has taken this complaint seriously and conducted a thorough preliminary investigation. American Lands Council is free to lobby like anyone else; all we ask is that they abide by the same rules that apply to everyone else who lobbies the Colorado legislature.”

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