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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Court Tells Nonprofit to Name Donors for TV Spot

DENVER (CN) - A Colorado nonprofit has to disclose the names of its donors if it wants to air a television ad directed at Gov. John Hickenlooper and critical of the state's health insurance exchange, the 10th Circuit ruled.

The Independence Institute began planning the ad in question in 2014. In essence it would demand that Hickenlooper call for an audit of the exchange, which the nonprofit claims has proposed a $13 million "insurance fee" that threatened to raise rates paid by the insured.

Before running the ad, the Institute sued the Colorado secretary of state's office, seeking a preliminary injunction that would exempt it from having to disclose donor's names.

The district court denied the motion on the grounds that it was directed at Gov. Hickenlooper and was meant to air during his bid to be elected to a new term.

The Institute appealed, but on the Thursday, the 10th Circuit affirmed the lower court's ruling.

"Television advertisements that mention candidates shortly before elections can be considered sufficiently related to campaigns to fall under permissible disclosure regimes-regimes whose precise requirements are cabined within the bounds of exacting scrutiny," wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Timothy Tymkovich for the three-judge panel.

"The question we face is whether the Institute's ad, which does not explicitly reference any campaign or state any facts or opinions about Governor Hickenlooper, can be subject to sufficiently tailored disclosure laws. We hold it can," he continued.

The Institute had argued their ad was directed towards Colorado's public policy, rather than a direct criticism of Hickenlooper. But this didn't persuade the panel, which said the public still had a right to know who was supporting the advertisement.

"The court did not rest its holding on the ground that the public only has an interest in knowing who references a campaign shortly before an election," Tymkovich wrote. "Rather, the court upheld the application of the statute because of the public's interest 'in knowing who is speaking about a candidate shortly before an election.'"

He continued: "The advertisement here does not say much about Governor Hickenlooper, but it does insinuate, at minimum, that he has failed to take action on an issue that the Institute considers important.

"That could bear on his character or merits as a candidate," Tymkovich said.

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