Recall petitions Polis

The petitions to recall Gov. Jared Polis, but organizers fell short of the number required to put the recall on the ballot. Photo by Marianne Goodland, Colorado Politics.

One of two recall committees that gave out the "Polis Penny," a penny returned to donors who gave $20 in cash, has paid a $2,300 fine over accusations that it circumvented campaign finance laws and rules. 

The Resist Polis PAC is an independent expenditure committee (IEC) that worked with Dismiss Polis, an issue committee, to gather petition signatures during the summer attempting to recall Gov. Jared Polis. That effort fell short of the 631,266 valid signatures required; the exact number of signatures collected was never disclosed by either group.

A campaign finance complaint alleged that the two groups tried to skirt campaign finance laws by giving donors who gave $20 in cash a penny back, which would then allow the recall campaign to keep the contributions anonymous. The minimum contribution for reporting a donor’s name and address is $20. The complaint was filed Aug. 7 by Jamie Sarche, who was represented by attorney Mark Grueskin, who frequently backs Democratic officials.

Issue committees may not accept anonymous contributions of $20 or more, the complaint said, and any anonymous contribution of $20 or more to an issue committee must be turned over to charity or to the state Treasurer. An independent expenditure committee must report donations of $20 or more, the complaint said, but the donor information can remain anonymous until contributions reach $250 in a year.

The Elections Division of the Secretary of State had originally attempted to dismiss the complaint against Resist Polis because of its higher contribution threshold. However, it upheld a separate complaint against the same committee for advising the return of the penny as a way of circumventing state campaign finance laws and reporting requirements.

While the complaint did not claim that Resist Polis had violated campaign finance laws by giving out the Polis Penny, the complaint said both committees “actively advised the return of a penny after a $20 donation in order to circumvent campaign finance laws and reporting requirements.” The complaint cited as evidence a Facebook post by Renee Scott of Resist Polis Mesa County, who said in an undated post that when “someone drops twenty dollars in the bucket, we will give them a Polis Penny. By giving you the penny back, your contribution equals $19.99 which does not require any of the personal data...for the SOS. It is considered a non-itemized fish-bowl donation. The key is that your donation does not exceed $19.99.”

Deputy Secretary of State Jenny Flanagan overturned the Election Division’s motion to dismiss part of the complaint against Resist Polis. While the IEC had a higher threshold for its reporting requirements, campaign finance rules require disclosure for donations of $20 or more, she wrote in her ruling. Flanagan also wrote that the Resist Polis PAC, which had a multi-function mission (anti-Polis IEC and pro-Polis recall) could have reporting requirements that exceed those for an independent expenditure committee.

The complaint alleged that Resist Polis was really a political committee, based on its activities, and hence required full disclosure information for donors who gave $20 or more. Flanagan agreed with that assertion.

Another part of the complaint alleged that the registered agent for Resist Polis was required to certify, under penalty of perjury, that all donations came from permissible sources. Since the committee failed to identify those who had given cash contributions of $20, that also could be a violation of campaign finance rules.

Neither the findings by the Elections Division nor by Flanagan disclosed what happened to the complaint against Dismiss Polis.

The complaint against Resist Polis headed to an administrative law judge in September, but it never went to trial because Resist Polis and the Elections Division entered into a settlement in early October. Resist Polis denied it had violated the law, but agreed to pay a $2,300 fine and said they would stop using the Polis Penny to avoid reporting requirements. The committee also agreed to stop accepting anonymous contributions.

The order was entered on Oct. 11, meaning the fine was due by Oct. 25. It was paid, according to the Secretary of State's office, on Oct. 16.

Calls to the committee’s attorney, Korry Lewis, have not been returned.

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