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State Supreme Court Rules Some Attack Ads Legal

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(credit: iStock)

(credit: iStock)

DENVER (AP) – The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that some political attack ads in state races are not subject to contribution limits if they don’t urge voters to elect or defeat a particular candidate.

The ruling is expected to have little effect on this year’s elections because Colorado lawmakers have already changed the rules to comply with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that allow similar kinds of advertising.

The state’s high court upheld an appeals court ruling against Colorado Ethics Watch, a political watchdog group, which filed a lawsuit against conservative groups that it believes sent improper campaign mailers in several state races in 2008.

The high court ruled that neither the Senate Majority Fund nor the Colorado Leadership Fund were subject to regulation as political committees, and had no limits on their political contributions as long as they didn’t urge voters to elect or defeat a particular candidate.

Ethics watch said the ads violated campaign laws because they identified candidates by name, identified the office they were seeking, summarized their qualifications, summarized the key issues in their races and promised what a candidate would do if elected.

The court said none of the ads directed voters to vote for a candidate, elect or support a candidate, or to vote against, defeat or reject a candidate.

The ruling came after the U.S. Supreme Court held that corporations are authorized to use their resources to influence candidate elections by endorsing candidates through independent expenditure committees, as long as they don’t coordinate their campaigns.

State Republican Party chairman Ryan Call said most political organizations have already switched to the new committees, which have less stringent contribution requirements as long as they report contributions and expenditures.

“The vast majority of committees have already switched or will switch,” Call said.

State Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio said the state Supreme Court ruling reaffirms what political parties have been doing for years.

During the 2008 elections, both campaign groups were registered as tax-exempt political organizations. The Senate fund said its purpose was supporting candidates for the state Senate, and the other group’s purpose was “electing Republicans.”

Both groups said they did not have to comply with special rules for political committees, including restrictions that they are not allowed to accept contributions of more than $500 per person or donor.

Luis Toro, who represents Colorado Ethics Watch, said there were a lot of large contributions from corporations before the 2008 elections that were designed to raise name recognition and support for candidates they favored.

“It’s no secret they were there to support candidates. The purpose of these organizations was to support Republicans,” Toro said.

Mario Nicolais, attorney for the Senate Majority Fund, said the two political organizations disclosed all donors and expenditures as required. “The core values of this country were free speech and the right to vote,” Nicolais said.

- By Steven K. Paulson, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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