Court Lowers Restrictions on Campaign Ads

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1min 23sec

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that political groups can avoid contribution limits and some financial disclosure requirements, as long as their campaign ads don’t use what the court called "magic words."

The following is a transcript of Megan Verlee's report:

REPORTER MEGAN VERLEE: Most TV watchers are familiar with the kind of ad this case addresses: spots that praise or disparage a candidate, but don’t quite urge the viewer to vote.

ANNOUNCER: ...To get the job done right, contact Libby at and tell her to keep fighting for smarter energy solutions...

REPORTER: They're called issue ads and the US Supreme Court has ruled they aren’t subject to the same donation and disclosure rules as spots that use words like “vote for” or “support.”But lawyers have long debated exactly where the boundary is.In 2008, the group Colorado Ethics Watch sued two organizations it said crossed the line in their ads for Republican legislative candidates.Tuesday, the state Supreme Court ruled against Ethics Watch. It said when Colorado voters approved campaign finance limits, they intended those rules to apply to a very narrow set of ads.Lawyer Mario Nicolais represented the Republican groups.

MARIO NICOLAIS: These types of rulings give clarity to the law and they draw bright lines, so that we all know what the rules are and we can play by those rules.

REPORTER: But Ethics Watch Executive Director Luis Toro believes the ruling will allow groups to avoid the campaign donation limits for most of their ads.

LUIS TORO: The state Supreme Court has decided to define the term "express advocacy" in a way that is functionally meaningless because it’s so easy to evade.

REPORTER: This ruling is not expected to have much impact on the ads voters see during the upcoming election, because the Supreme Court merely upheld how most groups were already interpreting the law.

Read the text of the ruling here

[Photo: CPR/Megan Verlee]