Dennis won't appeal campaign finance ruling

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— Secretary of State Gigi Dennis said Monday she will not appeal a ruling that tosses out a campaign finance rule requiring labor unions and other groups to get each member's permission to make political contributions from dues.

The decision means Denver District Judge John McMullen will eventually hold a trial to determine the validity of the rule.

Dennis, a Republican, imposed the rule two months ago, saying it was necessary to ensure openness in politics and avoid the appearance of corruption. Democrats said it unfairly restricted their ability to raise donations.

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled against the state, saying it is up to "the employee to make his or her objection known."

"Here, however, the secretary's rule presumes dissent by requiring an affirmative statement each year, which is inconsistent with the case law we have cited," the ruling said. The court said the new rule reversed that presumption, "thus denying the First Amendment rights of a majority of union members for the benefit of a minority of putative dissenting members."

The ruling applies only to the state's two teachers' unions, Dennis said _ a narrow decision that helped her decide against an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.

"Given the proximity of the election and the fact that last week's appeals court ruling applies only to these to plaintiffs for this election, I have chosen not to appeal further," she said. "Despite the ruling, I strongly encourage the teachers unions to do a better job educating their members that their dues are being used for political purposes and that they can request a refund of that money if they disagree with how it is spent."

At issue are small-donor committees, created by Amendment 27, a campaign-finance law voters approved in 2002. Such committees can give up to $4,000 to candidates in state legislative races, or 10 times more than individuals can contribute.

Analysts say Democrats have benefited more than Republicans from the committees because they are often created by Democratic-leaning groups such as labor unions, which can funnel portions of membership dues into their small-donor committees.

In the 2004 election, when Democrats took control of both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in about 40 years, small-donor committees spent about $1 million on state legislative races. Before the new rule was imposed this year, small-donor committees had spent at least $1.3 million, according to state records.

The trial judge earlier determined that the rule would make it difficult for the plaintiffs, which include the two teachers' unions, to seek and obtain permission from members to make political contributions. He said that essentially turned the groups' fundraising efforts into "opt-in" programs, while U.S. Supreme Court rulings have said such programs can legally assume members want to participate.

If a trial determines that the rule is invalid, that decision could cover all people and entities affected by the rule.

The case is No. 06CA1944.

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