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Politics and Government

Super PAC ads on initiatives draw campaign finance complaint

Better Jobs Coalition urged people not to sign initiative petitions, and defends its campaign work earlier this year.

Dome of Colorado state Capitol building on July 21, 2018. (Jeremy Martinez, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Colorado Common Cause is accusing a state super PAC of airing radio ads in July without disclosing spending or donations used to pay for the ad.

complaint filed with the Secretary of State’s office says Better Jobs Coalition aired radio ads in Colorado Springs urging people not to sign initiative petitions.

Better Jobs Coalition is registered as an independent expenditure committee with the Secretary of State. It incorporated as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit in 2016. The registered agent for both is Republican Rick Enstrom, who ran unsuccessfully for the state House in 2012.

Frank McNulty, a consultant for Better Jobs and former GOP House speaker, called the complaint “typical baseless harassment from liberal organizations trying to silence free speech.”

He said the radio ads, one of them voiced by an El Paso County commissioner, were paid for by the nonprofit.

But that isn’t the impression left by the ad, said Caroline Fry, spokeswoman for Colorado Common Cause, a campaign-finance watchdog organization.

“It would have been one thing if the advertisement said paid for by ‘insert c-4 name here,’” Fry said. “It said it was paid for by Better Jobs Coalition, which is registered with the Secretary of State as an independent spending committee.”

Such committees are authorized to spend money in candidate elections, not issue campaigns. The radio ads didn’t mention a specific initiative campaign. They urged voters to avoid signing any initiative petitions because their identities might be stolen.

“IECs are not supposed to make advertisements specifically about ballot initiatives,” Fry said.

The secretary of state’s office has until Sept. 19 to determine whether to dismiss the complaint, ask Better Jobs Coalition to rectify any potential violation, or conduct an investigation and refer the complaint to a hearing officer.

“We’ll see what the Secretary of State’s office decides to do,” McNulty said.

Fry said Common Cause filed the complaint after a member of the group heard the ads and sought helping looking into their financing.

“This is a direct result as to one of our members reaching out,” Fry said. “There is a role for Coloradans to take that activist role upon themselves.”

Better Jobs Coalition spent about $47,000 on radio ads supporting Republican Walker Stapleton in the four-way gubernatorial primary. The complaint does not involve the Stapleton ads. Recently, the group reported a $283,000 donation from Jim Walton, an heir to the Walmart fortune and the 16th wealthiest person in the world, according to Forbes.

This is the second election cycle for the group. In November 2016, the nonprofit reported in IRS filings transferring $35,000 to the super PAC, which spent money on canvassing and literature in several legislative contests.