Now on her second attempt (the third overall) to recall Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO), conservative activist Lori Cutunilli has a tall order ahead of her: recalling not only the governor but also Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold ahead of next year’s election. A glance at the committee’s monthly campaign finance reports would appear to show the recall as dead in the water- at least financially. Reports this year show zero contributions outside of Cutunilli herself and a current balance of exactly one dollar.
However, those reports don’t show the whole financial picture. Over the past three months, several thousand dollars have been donated to the cause, though not technically the committee, via another means of raising money: online fundraising sites. Recall Polis-Griswold 2021 has raised nearly $5,000 using a pair of web-based platforms: MightyCause and GoFundMe.
According to Cutunilli, money received through these sites goes to a “527” nonprofit called Citizens for Colorado. The group describes itself as “a non-partisan, non-profit group of citizens concerned with issues facing Colorado and our country. Currently, Recall Polis-Griswold is our main focus of action.” The site’s donate button currently links to the group’s MightyCause page, but Cutunilli says that will be shut down and switched to the GoFundMe page soon.
An Oct. 5 post pinned to the top of the group’s page on the social media platform MeWe reads as follows:
RECALL POLIS/GRISWOLD 2021 GROUP STARTS THE NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION “CITIZENS FOR COLORADO”!!!
Currently focus is on the Recall Polis-Griswold 2021 campaign with more citizen actions to follow. Contribution site/link is live. Contributions are not required to check out the site but are greatly appreciated! The Articles on file are for the non-profit registration not the Recall petitions. By-laws are also on file, they chose 527 over 501c3 or 501c4 as it’s more encompassing and less limiting for political action. The EIN is delayed as apparently the IRS is pre-occupied with stimulus checks. This F/R [fundraising] mechanism is specifically for non-profits who have been formed (but are waiting on EINs) to enable the ability to accept contributions while waiting.
The question of whether the Citizens For Colorado 527 is substantially different from the Recall Polis-Griswold 2021 issue committee isn’t entirely clear.
According to the Secretary of State’s Campaign Finance Manual, “Colorado law defines an issue committee as any person, other than a natural person, or any group of two or more persons, including natural persons, that has a major purpose of supporting or opposing any ballot issue or ballot question; and accepted or made contributions or expenditures in excess of $200 to support or oppose any ballot issue or ballot question.”
That same manual also notes that “organizations that are required to register as a 527 political organization with the Secretary of State’s Office must report all contributions and expenditures over $20 in a reporting period that are used to influence or attempt to influence the election or defeat of any individual to any Colorado state or local public office.”
CFC registered with the Colorado SOS as a nonprofit corporation on Aug. 26 but hasn’t filed any reports. The recall issue committee’s reports don’t reflect anything other than a handful of small contributions from Cutunilli herself.
Cutunilli says she knows the clock is ticking and hopes to have petitions approved and printed before the end of the month. Because this recall is aimed not only at the governor but also the secretary of state, whom she believes won’t administer fair elections in 2022, she’s working with state auditors rather than the SOS office directly.
The Secretary of State’s office declined to comment.
Once the petition is approved the campaign has just 60 days to collect over 630,000 valid signatures from registered Colorado voters. Traditionally the most expensive part of any recall effort, Cutunilli is confident that she has enough volunteers lined up so that the campaign won’t need to hire professional signature gatherers. She attributes last year’s failure to the challenges created by the pandemic.
The MightyCause campaign stands at $3,575, much of which is from anonymous donations of $100 or less but includes one contribution of $1,000. Since its launch yesterday, the GoFundMe page has received donations totaling $1325, the vast majority of which came from another $1,000 contribution, credited to “Anonymous.”
Cutunilli says that while some donations are publicly attributed to “Anonymous,” Citizens for Colorado receives donor information for every gift, whether or not the person chooses to make their name public. A spokesperson for GoFundMe confirmed this.
“Political fundraising is allowed within GoFundMe Terms of Service,” said GoFundMe’s Jeff Platt. “For security reasons, the organizer and beneficiary will always be able to see the donor’s name within their account regardless of whether or not the donation is made anonymously to the public.”
Political issue committees, such as Recall Polis-Griswold 2021, are required by law to track and report contributions and expenditures. Any gift of $20 or more must be reported with the donor’s name and contact information. Only donations of $19.99 or less may be anonymous, a rule known colloquially as the “fishbowl exception,” intended to facilitate small-dollar (often cash) gifts at fundraising events. Cutunilli says she’s still working with a lawyer and accountant as well as state auditors to work out details of the committee paperwork, but that the plan is either for Citizens for Colorado to donate the funds to the committee, or pay directly for the printing of the recall petitions in the form of an in-kind contribution.