Understanding the role of Colorado lobbyists and how to monitor what they do

The word “lobbyist” evokes negative reactions from some constituents. It is easy for people to assume that legislative business at the Colorado Capitol is conducted in the same ways as might occur in Washington, DC, another state, or even on a television show. Such assumptions generally fail to consider that the people of Colorado voted to change how lobbyists and elected officials interact in our state. 

In November 2006, the people of Colorado approved what was known on the ballot as “Amendment 41”. That amendment subsequently became Article XXIX of the Colorado Constitution, which defined Ethics in Government; banned members of the General Assembly from lobbying at the state Capitol for two years after they leave the legislature; and, created a gift ban that applies to elected officials, government employees, their spouses, and dependent children. The amendment also created the Independent Ethics Commission (“IEC”), which has the power to investigate complaints and issue penalties for violations under Article XXIX. You can learn more about the IEC and its unique constitutional role from their Ethics Handbook, which is available here.

Under Article XXIX, the persons listed above are prohibited from accepting anything of value from a lobbyist in Colorado. That means no meals, drinks, event tickets, travel, or anything of value. Meanwhile, those people can accept things of limited value from persons who are not lobbyists, not to exceed the current annual aggregate gift amount.

Lobbyists are allowed to contribute personal or LLC funds to candidate campaign committees. However, those contributions are subject to the same public disclosure requirements and contribution limits as apply for other eligible contributors (See Page 13 of the Campaign Finance Manual for current contribution limits).

Some people might scoff at the notion that Colorado elected officials, government employees, their spouses, and dependent children don’t accept things of value from lobbyists or consider the face value of a ticket to attend an event as the guest of a friend or neighbor. For those who doubt the effectiveness of Article XXIX, please consider that the penalty for violation can be three times the actual value of a prohibited gift. 

For those who might question what lobbyists do, the Colorado Secretary of State offers a helpful database that allows anyone to see who is lobbying what position and for which client(s), for every bill that is introduced in the Colorado General Assembly. The Search by Bill Number function at that website allows anyone to search a given Bill Number to see all such activity pertaining to that bill. It can be enlightening and even encouraging to discover that one or more lobbyists are working in support of your own position on a given bill.

It is worth noting that there are generally two types of lobbyists who frequent the Colorado Capitol. The first, registered professional lobbyists, are people who are paid to conduct lobbying activities. The second, volunteer lobbyists, are people who receive reimbursement for expenses relating to lobbying activities. Both are required to register and report their activities, which you can search by name or client, or download a directory of lobbyists via the Colorado Secretary of State website.

Given the constitutional changes approved by Colorado voters in 2006, many of the negative stereotypes commonly associated with lobbyists no longer apply in Colorado. Today, an appropriate definition for a “lobbyist” in Colorado might be First Amendment Practitioner.

** The information provided herein is intended for general educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have questions of a legal nature, please consult with an attorney.

** Civics Corner content was written with the help of former Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert.

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