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Luis Toro
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Luis Toro is Director Colorado Ethics Watch, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in Colorado government by taking legal actions against government officials and organizations who sacrifice the common good to special interests. He holds an A.B. from Harvard University and a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. Toro clerked for the Honorable Carlos F. Lucero of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals before entering private practice in Denver. In 2008, he joined the staff of Ethics Watch, where he litigates campaign finance and ethics complaints and provides expert analysis in on-line, broadcast and print media.

Entries by Luis Toro

Citizens United: Who Are These Guys?

(2) Comments | Posted October 29, 2014 | 3:26 PM


Citizens United has been in Colorado news a lot lately. The group, that is, not the Supreme Court case of the same name. On Monday, a divided panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Citizens United should be considered part of the media for purposes of campaign finance law, and therefore, the group need not disclose funding for its film "Rocky Mountain Heist," a thirty-minute attack ad dressed up as a documentary. The group, however, can still be required to disclose spending on ads about the movie that mention candidates right before the election - an important point considering that Citizens United's "film trailers" run as 30-second commercials reach more voters than their longer pieces ever will.

Why is this important? Because from the perspective of the people who run Citizens United and their secret funders, the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision wasn't a complete victory. Sure, the court opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate money in politics, but in another portion of the decision, the court held 8-1 that Citizens United could be required to disclose contributions and spending on TV commercials for its "documentary" about Hillary Clinton made for the 2008 election cycle. And it is very important for the people behind Citizens United that the source of their funding remain a secret.

One key to the court's ruling was its belief that everyone knows who Citizens United is. Lawyers for the state argued that Colorado's law exempting some press activities (such as editorial endorsements) from campaign finance disclosure requirements is that readers are familiar enough with an outlet like the Denver Post to be able to evaluate their editorial endorsements. Rejecting that argument, the Court majority held that due to its "history of producing films," Citizens United "can just as easily be evaluated by the electorate" as any newspaper.

Is that true? Do voters really know that Citizens United is an organization and not just the name of a Supreme Court case? Are Colorado citizens really familiar with Citizens United because of films like "Fast Terry" (about a candidate for Governor of Virginia), or "ACLU: At War With America"? Do they know the shady history of Citizens United's founders detailed in a recent Slate article?

I'm pretty sure the two conservative federal judges who authored the majority opinion are wrong about how well Colorado voters know Citizens United. That's why I encourage everyone to watch Common Cause and ProgressNow's spoof video of a typical Citizens United attack ad and see who these people are.

Remember, even though corporations may be considered people under the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, they still can't vote. And on Election Day, a billionaire's vote counts just as much as anyone else's. That's why corporations and billionaires are spending so much to influence this fall's election. If this election is important to them, it should be important to all Coloradans. In the era of unlimited election spending, the individual right to vote is perhaps the last voice ordinary citizens still...

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Spend, Baby, Spend!

(0) Comments | Posted May 30, 2013 | 2:50 PM

The last session of the Colorado legislature saw the passage of many historic bills on a variety of topics from civil unions to election administration and much more. It was striking, however, to see that the history-making changes did not extend to regulation of Colorado's oil and gas industry. How...

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Who Funded Amendment S, and Why It Still Matters

(1) Comments | Posted February 7, 2013 | 10:42 PM

Remember Amendment S? It was a statewide personnel reform measure on the 2012 Colorado ballot. It was the signature initiative of Governor John Hickenlooper, who as Mayor of Denver had successfully promoted a similar initiative to amend the city's charter. Amendment S passed comfortably, with little organized opposition...

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Should There Be a Consumer Protection Law for Campaign Ads?

(2) Comments | Posted October 4, 2012 | 7:30 PM

Back when I worked as a commercial lawyer, if I had ever argued that the laws against securities fraud infringed on my client's free speech rights, I'd be laughed out of court. And rightly so: The law recognizes that functioning markets are important enough to our society that laws protecting...

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The Public Trustee Ethics Crisis: Where Do We Go From Here?

(0) Comments | Posted August 1, 2012 | 6:32 PM

The Denver Post's David Migoya deserves praise for his investigative reporting on ethics problems involving Colorado's public trustees. Last year, he broke the story that a law firm and software vendor involved in foreclosure work, which is administered by the public trustees, financially supported the public trustees' non-profit...

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In Colorado, Open Records Law Can Be a Weapon Against Transparency

(2) Comments | Posted June 1, 2012 | 5:27 PM

As the first state to pass a Sunshine Law for government meetings, Coloradans are justifiably proud of our state's history as a leader in safeguarding open government. Our guarantees of public access to government records, however, are not so enviable.

For those of us who routinely use the...

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How We Can Protect Coloradans' Right to Vote

(0) Comments | Posted February 7, 2012 | 11:40 AM

As the American revolutionary Thomas Paine wrote, "The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected." The right to vote is what unites people of all religious and cultural backgrounds and political philosophies as Americans. Protecting and expanding that right has...

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Colorado Should Investigate Abstinence-Only Grant

(0) Comments | Posted August 11, 2011 | 6:02 PM

This week's Westword cover story, by Andy Kopsa, reported that Denver-based WAIT Training managed to circumvent both Governor Ritter's rejection of federal abstinence-only funds and Colorado law requiring comprehensive sex education in order to obtain federal grant money through the Colorado State Board of Education. Westword also reported...

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Stapleton Moonlighting Shows Need for More Disclosure

(2) Comments | Posted May 6, 2011 | 3:25 PM

Colorado State Treasurer Walker Stapleton raised eyebrows yesterday when he testified before Congress in support of a public pension fund transparency bill. While Stapleton argued in favor of transparency in Washington, DC, he has been resisting it here in Colorado, refusing to disclose how much time...

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Ethics Commission Staff Wrong Place for Cuts

(6) Comments | Posted April 6, 2011 | 2:47 PM

Buried in the bipartisan state budget compromise unveiled yesterday was a steep cut to the tiny budget of the Independent Ethics Commission (IEC), reducing the commission's staff from two to one and placing Colorado solidly in last place in staff support among the forty-plus states that...

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Colorado Springs Should Clear Up Its Ban on Corporate Contributions

(3) Comments | Posted February 10, 2011 | 3:18 PM

Campaign finance law can be complicated, usually because corporate-rights advocates convince courts to announce increasingly difficult hurdles against popular efforts to regulate the flow of money in elections. But in the case of Colorado Springs, it's complicated because of the uniquely Colorado institution of municipal home rule. And the stakes...

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End of an Era for Colorado Ballot Initiatives (We Hope)

(2) Comments | Posted November 4, 2010 | 1:25 PM

Colorado's ballot initiative system was severely abused this year, when four of the six voter-initiated measures on the statewide ballot made it to Election Day without disclosure of who paid for the printing of petitions or the collection of signatures to qualify those measures for the ballot. Reform already in...

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Ethics Questions Continue to Swirl Around Bruce

(3) Comments | Posted October 25, 2010 | 1:14 PM

Long after he left office as the first legislator in Colorado history to receive a formal censure, Douglas Bruce has managed to find himself in more ethical trouble this year than most elected officials.

In 2010 alone, Bruce has found himself in ethical trouble on...

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Setting Colorado Precedent in Judicial Elections

(0) Comments | Posted October 1, 2010 | 3:42 PM

Last week, Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer ruled that Clear the Bench Colorado, a group dedicated to ousting justices of the Colorado Supreme Court in the November general election, must register with the Colorado Secretary of State as a political committee. The main effect of the ruling is that Clear...

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Moon Rock Story a Moral for the Ethics Commission

(0) Comments | Posted July 9, 2010 | 6:30 PM

You may have seen the story in June about the "missing" moon rock that had been given to the State of Colorado by the federal government to celebrate the successful Apollo missions in the '70s. It turned out that when former Governor John Vanderhoof left office in 1975,...

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Time to Toughen Ethics Rules for the Pinnacol Board

(3) Comments | Posted May 28, 2010 | 5:08 PM

KMGH-TV's recent expose of a lavish Pebble Beach golf trip taken by three members of the board that oversees Pinnacol Assurance, the state workers' compensation insurance fund, earned bipartisan outrage. The likelihood that Pinnacol itself paid for the trip - which can't be confirmed because Pinnacol filed suit...

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Health Care Lawsuit: What Will it Cost Colorado?

(3) Comments | Posted April 13, 2010 | 3:18 PM

On March 22, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers announced that Colorado would join the lawsuit against the federal Affordable Care Act that was filed by a number of state attorneys general in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida. Of primary concern to Colorado Ethics Watch...

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Ethics Commission's Second Hearing Shows Reform Still Needed

(0) Comments | Posted March 12, 2010 | 4:27 PM

Yesterday, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission (IEC) unanimously found no violation of Colorado ethics laws by Rex Burns, the manager of the Boxelder Stormwater Authority in Larimer County, who was alleged to have misused his former position as a Larimer County employee to become the sole candidate for...

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Colorado's Top 5 Scandals of 2009

(1) Comments | Posted January 8, 2010 | 10:20 AM

Ethics Watch released its annual list of the top scandals in Colorado during 2009. We don't attempt to rank the scandals - each of these very different events could arguably be declared the "worst." Here are the five scandals we thought deserved to be remembered as we enter a new...

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Ethics Commission Doubles Staff, Starts to Investigate Complaints

(0) Comments | Posted December 17, 2009 | 2:13 PM

One of the benefits of creating the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission (IEC) as an independent commission, not subject to control by the governor or the legislature, is that the IEC is not bound by the governor's hiring freeze order. As a gesture of goodwill during economic hard times, the IEC...

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