Colorado campaign finance loophole allows dark money flyers

The Colorado Independent: Voters in two key state Senate districts recently received flyers praising GOP Sens. Beth Martinez Humenik and Tim Neville for their work in the state legislature on issues such as health care and education.

Nothing on the four-page leaflets, which dropped on doorsteps in June and July, indicates who paid for them. But, because the flyers don’t directly urge people to vote for the two Republicans running in competitive Senate districts, they are legal.

Colorado’s campaign finance law has a loophole that allows printed literature, mailers or other materials about candidates to be distributed without disclosing who paid for them if they don’t include what an elections division manager with the Secretary of State calls “magic words” such as “vote for” or “vote against.”

Colorado was one of only 10 states that didn’t require disclosure of an ad’s sponsor in the 2016 election cycle, according to the Campaign Finance Institute.

That loophole lets outside groups aiming to influence elections do so without coming right out and saying so. It’s a form of dark money that prevents voters from tracing who is behind a campaign message.

“That’s kind of like no-man’s land,” said Caroline Fry, of Colorado Common Cause, a watchdog group that pushes for transparency in elections. “You can distribute a lot of pieces like that without disclosing.”

Martinez Humenik, a Republican from Thornton seeking her second term in the state Senate, said she was surprised to hear about the flyer circulating in support of her record.

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