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Colo. Court Hands Republicans Super PAC Win

DENVER (CN) - The Colorado Court of Appeals rejected a government watchdog group's claim that the state Republican Party created a supposedly independent super PAC to circumvent limits on contributions to political parties.

In rejecting concerns raised by Colorado Ethics Watch, the court ruled that because an independent expenditure committee - the formal name of a Super PAC - can be formed by any "person" and a political party is defined as a "person" under Colorado law, the state GOP did not violate the law in forming a committee to "collect [contributions] or make independent expenditures."

The court went on to explain that the political party's independent expenditure committee may make independent expenditures when it does so without "the request, suggestion, or direction of, in consultation with, or under the control of that candidate committee or political party."

The state GOP established the independent expenditures committee in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's January 2010 Citizens United decision. In that ruling the high court held that a federal law banning corporate and labor union independent expenditures violated the First Amendment and was unconstitutional.

In May 2010, the Colorado General Assembly enacted the state's Fair Campaign Practices Act. Three years later, in November 2013, the state GOP asked the Colorado Secretary of State to declare that political parties could form Super Pacs under the law, but the secretary demurred, telling the party to seek relief in the state or federal courts.

On May 8, 2014, the party sued the secretary of state to compel the declaration it sought, and a month later, Colorado Ethics Watch intervened in the case.

After Judge Robert McGahey sided with the party, the watchdog group turned to the state Court of Appeals.

But on Feb. 25, the appellate court again sided with the state GOP.

"Neither the Campaign and Political Finance Amendment nor the Fair Campaign Practices Act establishes source or amount limits on contributions to independent expenditure committees," wrote Judge Dennis Graham on behalf of the court.

"So long as the expenditure is independent - 'not controlled by or coordinated with any candidate or agent of such candidate' - its source will not be subject to any contribution limits."

The Colorado GOP's independent expenditure committee has received over $61,000 in donations since the beginning of the election cycle, and currently owes $88,000.

While Thursday's ruling gave the Colorado GOP a cause for celebration, Tuesday's caucus will be less eventful for the state party.

The party's executive committee decided last summer to opt out of the presidential caucus vote in a dispute with the Republican National Committee.

That dispute hinges on a recent rule change by the national committee that requires Republican delegates to vote for the candidate who wins each convention's caucus, thus "binding" delegates to whichever candidate wins.

State GOP chair, Steve House, told KUNC that Colorado Republicans hoped the move would help the state party protect their interests in electing the right presidential candidate.

"Given the context of the race back in August [2015], when we made this decision, we felt it would be better to follow that four step caucus process to elect delegates that represented the candidates that the state of Colorado's Republicans wanted," House said.

"Picking our delegates through a controlled and secure four step process that is open to all registered Republicans is far preferable than an opaque straw poll. Something needs to change going forward but election integrity is still more important to me than any other factor."

But Republican National Committee member Mike Kopp, of Colorado, openly spoke out against the decision when it was made last August. He unsuccessfully rallied for the party to restore the caucus vote, arguing that the decision would diminish Colorado's importance in the election.

Kopp explained the RNC's rules more clearly in an opinion column in the Denver Post in August of 2015, writing that delegates would not be bound to candidates who lost or fell out of the race as the election process continued.

"Colorado Republicans do not have to sacrifice the ability to play a major role in a contested convention even if a binding presidential preference poll is held," Kopp wrote. "As candidates inevitably drop out of the race as the process moves forward after Colorado's caucuses, any delegates won by those unsuccessful candidates would be released to vote for whomever they want at the national convention."

Colorado has had impressive turnouts in recent Republican caucuses. In the 2008 election, 70,000 republican voters showed up to caucus, with Mitt Romney earning over half the votes. An almost equally strong Republican body garnered 64,000 votes in the 2012 caucus, with Rick Santorum beating Romney by 3,000 votes.

While no official presidential poll will be taken, Republicans can meet at one of 2,995 locations to elect delegates for the state convention, from which delegates for the national level will be chosen.

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